Monday, June 20, 2005

BATMAN BEGINS ON FATHER'S DAY

Click here to see my first comic ever.

WHEN I was eight years old, my father bought me my first comic book, World's Finest Comics with Superman and Batman on the DC Comics imprint. The comic, which I've since misplaced and have finally rediscovered on eBay, featured the incredible union of the two most revered superheroes of all time. It was an absolute thrill for an eight-year-old to hold a comic of such myth-making potential. It was almost too heavy and fantastic for my little ever-absorbing mind to comprehend. I couldn't wait to get home and read it.

This specific issue, No. 293 from July 1983, was the beginning of my fascination with Batman. After devouring this specific perilous episode pitting Batman and Superman against the evil Null and Void, the Caped Crusader suddenly took on a weighty depth. He was no longer a hokey character from an unfortunately acted 60's television show. Batman was a mere mortal with a venomous anger, a conflicted soul grappling with a moral ambiguity. While I could have easily fallen for Superman, tagging him as my favorite hero and role model, I found it hard to relate to him. The Kryptonaut was actually an alien, sent from a doomed planet to ours. His super-strength and god-like powers were nothing I could ever achieve. I was a weak sixth grader with glasses that were large enough to cover half my face. I would never be a Superman, regardless of the exercise and weight-lifting I could do. On the other hand, Batman, a man, fought side-by-side with this incredible alien. Need I remind you that Batman wasn't bullet-proof, he couldn't fly. Batman couldn't see through walls. Yet his shortcomings were never obstacles. The Dark Knight rose above it all to become the most feared and revered hero among heroes. Batman was real to me. And what's more, Batman was always an inspiration.
My father had introduced us to each other. Batman, he said, meet my son Arye. Arye, meet Batman.

As the years passed, my father took me to the comic book store every Friday before Shabbat so I would have something to read in the long quiet afternoons (before I learned to appreciate a nap). Despite my ever-changing taste in comic book series and characters, Batman had always remained my favorite. Dad brought me to store on Wood Avenue and ran errands while I walked up and down the aisles of countless, fresh copies, which all smelled wonderful to me--like ink, and bubble gum and adventure and wonder. I salivated while piling comics in my hand as I paced the store. I needed this one, and this one, and-OH!-this one is finally out. The trip to the comic book store every Friday was a ritual I waited all week for. Its also one Dad and I took together until I got a driver's license and started making the trip on my own (which, I'm sure, disappointed my dad because he missed out on the post-comic splurge at Carvel (strawberry milkshake for me, thank you)).

In 1989, when the first Batman movie came out, I could not have been any more excited unless Batman himself had come to my Bar Mitzvah (who, incidentally, I did invite). The day that Batman, directed by Tim Burton, was released, I walked to the movie theater and watched it alone. Don't feel bad--it was intentional. No one else I knew was worthy to share this experience with me. I was a High Priest entering the Holy of Holies. I had to face this event by myself. Needless to say, it was a most euphoric two hours. My first childhood hero was respectfully brought to life and all was great in the world. Incidentally, I would go on to watch the movie twenty-seven times in the years to come and, over the span of the next year, transform my room into what my friend would don "the Batcave" (which I accepted as an honor). All the while, my father supported my fandom, even defending it ("at least he's reading"), paying for my weekly shipment of hero-worship, surprising me with a Batman collectible (like an eraser, or folder, or poster), and even cutting out Batman comic strips from the paper and sending them to me when I was away in summer camp.

As the years passed, I grew up (only physically) and Batman was growing with me. Amazingly, the Dark Knight became progressively darker as if he was also learning to deal with a more complex world. As the rating of the movie I was legally able to attend raised, the more Batman became conflicted and complicated. Adults would laugh and friends would mock, but (and I'm aware of the ridiculous nature of this statement) Batman was gladly a prominent presence in my life, thanks to Dad.

My father, the man who ensured that my soul would remain young forever, passed away a little over two years ago. There's not a day that goes by that I don't think of him. Although, I may not write about him or make verbal references to his love and greatness, Dad is in everything I do. Yesterday, Father's Day, was unique because Dad was (and also, literally, wasn't) every where. My day actively passed just as any other Sunday, running errands, going out for coffee, doing stuff in the apartment, but all the while, others were calling their fathers or having brunch with them. I tried my best to ignore the nature of the day--in fact, I didn 't even bring it up with my own family--but it was obvious. Today was Father's Day, which now had as much relevence to me as Christmas did.

Later that night, I went to see a late night showing of Batman Begins, a sensational film that I highly recommend even if you don't have the history that I do (inevitably, I will see it again). While I watched Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) transform from a confused orphan into a matchless super hero, I experienced a twang of time travel. Suddenly, I was fourteen again, thrilled and overjoyed, sitting in a crowded theater, watching my childhood hero come to life. I gripped the handle bar for all two hours. As the film continued, I also felt like the boy coming home from the comic book store every Friday who couldn't get out of the car fast enough to start reading his new Batman comics. I was the child that relied on his father's ride for his one-way ticket to fantasy, vicariously swinging from the skyscrapers of Gotham City. I was eight-years-old standing in a 7-11, holding a World's Finest Comics #293, bewildered and excited, hearing a distant voice asking, "Do you want me to get that for you?"
On that very day, my imagination was invented. My creativity was planted and watered. I would see the world in vibrant colors and glorious waves.
Now years later, I sat there watching this movie, thinking this is one of the more appropriate things I could do on Father's Day.

And after work today, I am heading to the comic book store. Only this time, I'm taking the subway by myself.

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