What I Didn’t Know About Wildcat’s Origin Story

I’m a comic nerd. Have been all my life. Being a superhero fan, I feel lucky to have been a kid during the 70s and 80s when comics were arguably the best they’ve ever been (go on, argue with me about it). Not only were Marvel and DC producing monumental new books at that time, but both publishers delighted readers (while saving some bucks) by reprinting material from as far back as the 1930s — what’s known as the Golden Age of comics — too. In addition to comics, I’ve always liked history, Old Time Radio, and old pulp action heroes, so this was great for me.

Wildcat was a character from that Golden Age. An old-fashioned kind of vigilante, he didn’t have any true super powers. I thought he had a pretty cool costume, though. Ted Grant, his alter ego, had been a championship boxer, so he was a pretty tough guy. For whatever reason, Grant decided to put on a costume and fight crime. It was a thing some tough guys did in those days. He called himself Wildcat and wore a solid black cat suit, complete with cat mask.

That might sound a little silly to you, but if you can believe it, a similar non-powered fella had turned hero wearing, of all things, a suit that made him look like a bat, and that character’s books sold incredibly well. For 75 years.

Wildcat’s popularity never came close to Batman’s, but DC Comics did bring him into the modern age, along with the rest of the Justice Society of America, in the 1960s. He was featured not only in reprints, but also in new stories. He was even shown to have trained Batman and other crime fighters. DC had a whole multiple earth scenario that explained where the Golden Age heroes came from. If you watch The Flash, you’ve seen a little of that. And if you watch Arrow, you’ve seen Wildcat. A version of him, anyway.

For decades, Wildcat has been portrayed as kind of a lunk. Undoubtedly a hero, full of heart, but more a jock than a thinker. Not simple-minded like Johnny Thunder, a more humorous character, but not as bright as the rest of the Justice Society, being mostly scientists, doctors, and industrialists in their secret identities.

I recently lucked into a copy of The Greatest Golden Age Stories Ever Told at The Last Word which includes Wildcat’s first appearance and origin story. Written by Bill Finger, who happened to also co-create Batman and the original Green Lantern, among others, the story is classic pulp, full of tragedy and heroic determination. As superhero origins go, it’s really good. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing, but was bowled over by a revelation early in the story.

On page two, in only three panels, my perception of this character was totally changed.

Ted Grant not only went to college, he went Ivy League.

So it looks like the ol’ pugilist grew up somewhat privileged, and not only went to college, but Yale of all places. To top it off, he didn’t want to be a professional boxer. HE WANTED TO BE A DOCTOR.

I know this is just a comic book story, and I’m sure it lacks some impact if you haven’t read the treatment of the character for decades, but it got me thinking. Have you ever thought you had someone pegged, then found out something about them that changed your view of them?

Most of us are probably guilty of categorizing acquaintances and coworkers in simple terms. It’s unfortunate that we make assumptions about people based on limited information. We might encounter one side of a person, or deal with them in only one kind of situation. I understand why we make the judgments we do, but it’s kind of a shame we can’t read everyone’s origin story.

You’ve probably heard some version of “everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” I do believe that’s true. In our day to day dealings, we rarely know where folks are coming from or what they’ve been through. I’d like to say it doesn’t matter, but being the social creatures we are, knowledge and understanding do affect our relationships. Even and especially our briefest and most casual.

I happened to be studying marketing recently (I don’t only read comics), and a message I encountered with repetition is that no matter what you’ve done, no matter how good you are or what you’re capable of, if people don’t know about it, you’ll not make as much of a difference as you should. That it’s up to you to “market” yourself so your accomplishments and experience don’t go unnoticed. Well, if we’re wise enough to understand that, can we be wise enough to flip it around and understand that there are folks out there doing incredible things who AREN’T good at marketing themselves? What might we be missing? If I’m smart enough to know I need to put myself out there, I hope I’m smart enough to know to look deeper at who people are, what they’ve been through, and what they’ve done.

You certainly don’t need to know everyone’s background in order to be friendly or have a good relationship. Rapport is built in the present as easily as on similar past experiences. I do hope, though, I’ll be careful to consider there’s more to the people I meet than the impressions I interpret.

 

 

What I Don’t Know About Big Changes Resulting from Small Decisions

Remember when Buckaroo Banzai drove through the mountain? He explained how the solid parts of matter — the atoms, quarks, neutrons — only make up a fraction of what people consider to be the whole thing, and that most of a thing is empty space. That’s how I’ve often looked at our lives. Sometimes it seems like life is a series of a small number of significant moments upon and around which the rest of our time hangs. When we look back, sometimes the most important  things we do or that happen to us occur without fanfare or invitation. Choices made without much thought, decisions we expect to be small, made on the spot, wind up leading to consequences broader and with greater impact than expected.

Take this one, for instance: I was paying my phone bill a few months back when it occurred to me that dang phone service was costing me too much. I investigated options through my carrier to see if there were changes I could make to my plan to lower the bill. There weren’t, really. No biggie. It had been my choice to sign up with the plan and get the phone I have; I couldn’t be upset the company was charging me the rate I’d agreed on. What did bother me, though, was how little I was getting in return for paying one of my largest month bills. Again, no one’s fault but mine.

“I’m paying over a hundred dollars a month just to be able to scroll through Facebook wherever I am?” Seriously, I said it out loud to myself. That’s when I decided to make sure to get a better return on my phone investment.

Thinking how I could make better use of the tool the phone is supposed to be, I recalled educational apps and podcasts I’d accessed in the past. What could I do with the phone, how could I use it to be an asset rather than a liability? I started with the TED app.

The very next day, while eating lunch in the break room at work, I watched TED Talks. One of them was Shawn Achor’s “The Happy Secret to Better Work.” I was inspired by his talk to check out his book, The Happiness Advantage. I was impressed enough, I bought the book. Then I read it. Then it changed my life.

happinessadvantagedvdsmaller

Not the same way The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai changed my life, but it made an impact, pretty much right away, on my behavior at work. What I read and learned from The Happiness Advantage set me to explore other books and resources related to positive psychology. I instituted new habits, and, yes, found myself to be happier. Not only at work, but also at home and in all aspects of my life.

I have plenty more to say about The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor, and the pursuit of self-improvement. The point I wanted to make here, though, is it was a small, simple change because of a brief moment of realization that brought about major adjustments in my life. Take care with your moments. Consider your choices carefully. Don’t be surprised, either, if something great comes around when you don’t expect it.

Some Things I Don’t Know About Social Oppression, and More I Didn’t Know About Self-Oppression

“This is the ultimate misery: living a life that is not our own.” – Brendon Burchard

Just last night I was thinking to myself about how ever since I was a very young person I’ve given in and allowed other people — often cruel, small-minded people — to guide my behavior and my life. Not to blame them for any dissatisfaction with the way my life has turned out, because the choice to succumb and hide my true self has always been mine.  Then this morning I coincidentally came across an insightful and powerful section in Brendon Burchard’s Motivation Manifesto on social oppression that completely described my dilemma.

For all the recognition I’ve received for being different, for non-conformity, for thinking outside the box, I have, for my entire life, nearly completely been someone designed by those around me.

This is something I have known and acknowledged to myself all along. I was most aware of this surrender and masking of my true self during grade school. Examining my childhood, though, I suspect it began even before then, at home, in effort to best please and most easily pacify my parents, especially dad, and other adults around me.

I remember never fitting in with other kids at school. An especially strong memory of being teased by a group of (dumb, cruel) boys on a school field trip sticks out to me as a turning point where I accepted one of the worst lessons I ever could have and consciously decided to hide my real self and stifle my intellect. To appease those kids, who I didn’t even know and whose opinions shouldn’t have had any weight on my behavior, I chose to stop expressing who I really was.

That’s sad. What’s sadder is I continued living that way, actively concealing my real thoughts and hiding my true potential throughout the rest of my school years, and beyond.

Sadder than that, even: I still didn’t fit in.

The real tragedy, though, the worst, most horrendous and terrible effect of letting other people shape my behavior and outward identity, was not the accumulation of poor decisions and record of underachievement. It was the inner conflict I suffered. The person I knew I was meant to be fought to rise up, to burst out into the light of day, stayed in constant battle with self doubt, fears of rejection, and, over time, the conditioning of being held dormant.

That conflict and denial of self created all kinds of problems. Depression, naturally. Anger. During periods of my life it manifested in selfishness and hedonism. And a near constant search for meaning and happiness that I could never quite reach.

I fooled myself for a very long time that keeping my real self submerged was actually a good thing, that it was an exercise in discipline. I believed I was a master of self control, even though my behavior and choices often proved otherwise. In reality, I was a prisoner of fear and a victim of ease and comfort.

Another level of self-deception disguised itself as a bizarre strategy for performance at school and work. I’d foolishly convinced myself to purposefully downplay my abilities and let people underestimate me, so that in a dramatic move I could surprise them later with results beyond their expectations. A twist on the under promise, over deliver rule. The problem was, by underachieving, I often left my actions at that lower level of expectation and failed to spring the big reveal. So that led to a cycle of frustration and added to my dissatisfaction and disappointment with myself.

Well, it ain’t happening any more.

The people in my life deserve better. I deserve better. I can’t be the best person I can be, to help others and contribute fully, if I’m in a constant state of hiding and using up all my energy struggling between my real self and who I think people want me to pretend to be.

Not that it will be easy. A lifetime of suppression and decades of malignant habits will be difficult to overcome. It’s not like throwing open a cage door and running out free. But the door is at least open. I expect I’ll need to work just as hard to push my actual self out front as I did to hold it back. Fortunately, the psychic muscles I’ll need for that are strong after years of flexing.

If you’re someone around me who (believes they) know me, I ask for your patience and understanding while I work on this. I can use your help and encouragement too. You can definitely count on the same from me.

It’s a damn shame it’s taken me this late in life to make this move. I believe a lot of people have similar difficulties with social oppression. I sure hope they find their way free earlier than I did.

Although I came to my own conclusions about my issue, the section in Brendon Burchard’s Motivation Manifesto on social oppressions so clearly expressed the same struggle, it opened my eyes wider. So much of what he identified on only three pages resonated with my experience. I completely recommend his books and teachings for everyone, but if you are suffering from trying to appease those around you at the expense of your own spirit, I believe he offers some special guidance. There’s been an offer recently to get a free copy of The Motivation Manifesto and an accompanying online study. If it’s still available, by all means take advantage of it.

What I Don’t Know About Kevin Hearne

Amidst the regular flow of disappointment that is modern life, some pretty cool stuff happened in 2011.  Ashley and I got to see Gang of Four and Arctic Monkeys; we had a fantastic beach vacation with some of the coolest people in the world; Moogfest gave us an even more amazing lineup than the previous year; and three fun and fast-paced books by new Urban Fantasy author Kevin Hearne appeared on bookshelves.

Hounded, Hexed, and Hammered are the first three books in the Iron Druid Chronicles.  They involve Atticus O’Sullivan, the last living Druid who has survived over two thousand years through his special Druidic abilities and (not always) careful living.  Atticus has an Irish wolfhound, Oberon, with whom he communicates telepathically and playfully.  There’s a new wiki that can explain more, but I recommend you just read the books.  Do it.

From the get-go, people were comparing the Iron Druid Chronicles to Jim Butcher and the Dresden Files.  Because they feature male protagonists who work magic, I guess.  There is some similarity in style, too, but Hearne is more comfortable letting things get a little silly, so there’s more humor in his series.  There was, anyway.  With books four and five, Tricked and Trapped respectively, the tone shifts toward seriousness.  Still plenty of very funny lines, though, and Oberon especially provides terrific comic relief.

Personally, I find the Iron Druid Chronicles to have more in common with Neil Gaiman’s American Gods universe.  With more humor.  And more action.  And a more direct narrative.  So maybe they really are only akin to American Gods because of all the dieties and mythological beings doing things in our contemporary world.  Know what though?  The Iron Druid books are really what I secretly hoped American Gods would have been.

Say what you will about judging books by their covers, but it was seeing the outstanding covers of Hounded, Hexed, and Hammered side by side on display that caught my attention.  They looked like something special.  They certainly were.

Kevin Hearne is pretty much the kind of writer I would like to be.  Not only for his boyish (though bearded) good looks, nor for the impressive brogue he can switch on instantly, but for three particular reasons:  he’s smart, he’s prolific, and he’s a totally nice guy.

He produces completely engaging novels and short stories at an unexpected pace, giving his readers a little something to enjoy every few months.  That’s smart and prolific.  The dialogue in the books is clever.  The mythology is well-researched and thoroughly developed, with enough explained to the reader to make everything believable.  The characters and their relationships are also well-formed and delightful.  Smart, smart, smart.

Mr. Hearne shares A LOT with his fans through his blog and social media.  He posts updates on his writing, inside perspectives on getting published, and simply goofy thoughts and memes.  He actually responds to fans.  Online, his personality is always positive.  I was lucky to have Mr. Hearne include Charlotte on his summer book tour, which he arranged and paid for on his own.  He was exceedingly kind in person.  He patiently answered all sorts of questions and frankly explained the work that went in to writing and publishing his books.  He was funny, quick, grateful, and gracious.  Totally nice.

Me and Kevin Hearne at Park Road Books
That’s me with Kevin Hearne, super-cool author of the Iron Druid Chronicles! I should have held the book up so it showed the cover. Guess I was too excited.

Earlier I made my case preferring his work to others; allow me to balance the scales a little.  The IDC are not as literary as Neil Gaiman’s books.  They sure are entertaining, though.  Don’t let anything here mislead you to believe these are silly stories.  Obviously a lot of care goes into crafting the books and the characters.  Perhaps it is his experience as a teacher, but there is a lot to be learned from his books, too, and not only about the various pantheons and cultures.  I find a moral or two or at least some applicable wisdom in each of the Iron Druid books.  That’s smart, prolific, AND nice.

Truth is, it was while reading the first three Iron Druid books that I decided to get serious and write a novel.  I’d been working on an idea for a couple of years, and the Iron Druid Chronicles proved to me a UF series could successfully have the mix of humor, action, emotion and history I wanted to include.  Kevin Hearne continues to be an inspiration, and I thank him for it.

Hexed by Kevin Hearne

Hexed (Iron Druid Chronicles, #2)Hexed by Kevin Hearne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Even better and more fun than the first Iron Druid book. I like how the author mixes up the action so the story isn’t just following a linear outline from one point to the next. The different episodes could almost be individual short stories, but crafting them together, despite the fantasy setting, make the way things unfold more realistic. Some scenes overlap from the first book, others clearly set things up for future stories, including the next one, obviously. Hearne’s cast of supporting characters is broad and enjoyable, from the old Irish widow to the book store employees to the witches, vampire, werewolves, and gods. I wasn’t sure at first how I felt about Hearne’s including Christian figures like The Virgin as mythical beings, but I believe the point he is making (similar to Neil Gaiman’s) is that it’s the faith of believers that create such beings, and if I as a reader have no issue with a fictional Coyote or Brighid, an educated reader like myself should also appreciate a fictional Virgin or Jesus.

Like others who are speedily discovering this series, I can barely wait to start the next book. I expect it to be fun seeing what Hearne does next with his characters.

View all my reviews

Currently Reading

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs (Dover Thrift Edition!).  One of those I’ve never read before.  I’m near the end, probably finish tonight.

A few years back I became interested in catching up on classic adventure literature, provoked, best I can figure, by Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  At about the same time, I’d indulged a love of old radio shows, especially The Shadow and The Green Hornet, and heroic pulp   fiction, picking up the entire Doc Savage series from ebay, as well as most of The Avenger and The Spider books.  Coincidentally, I owe another Spider for deepening an interest in period heroics by loaning me a copy of Caleb Carr’s The Alienist.

This was back around 2002/2003.  I know this, because the special order sticker is still on the copy of Tarzan I’m reading.  I was working in a bookstore/music store (“the more things change…”), which means I wasn’t making a lot of money, but also means I got a discount on my books.  Since the store didn’t stock a lot of the books I was wanting to read at that period, I ordered in the cheap Dover editions of things like Sherlock Holmes stories and The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu.  I’d found a copy of one of Sax Rohmer’s other Fu Manchu books in our local used bookstore, and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.  Sure, you could make a good case that the books are racist, but then have you ever read Tarzan?

I suppose I like these books in a similar way I like rock music from the 60’s and 70’s:  in part, because of the history.  It’s interesting to me to pick up the perspectives of writers from other times.  Worldviews change; so do tastes in literature.

So back then I did get around to reading a number of classics I never made time for before, including  20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  Then I discovered Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, and my interest shifted to more contemporary stuff.

As I’ve gone through shedding most of what I’ve owned these last couple of years, I’ve committed to finally getting around to reading some of the books I purchased, even years ago, but never read.  It’s been fun.  I’ve come across some things I wish I had read sooner (Charlie Huston’s Already Dead was excellent; Derby Dugan’s Depression Funnies was delightful), and some I can’t believe I ever had any intention of reading.  And now I’m at Tarzan.  It’s in the middle somewhere, but I’m glad to be finally getting to it.

Blue Monday: Fats Domino and the Lost Dawn of Rock ‘n’ Roll by Rick Coleman

Eh.  Plenty of history in this book, which does present a pretty wide view of race relations as well as the development of pop music in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s and not solely focused on Fats Domino.  Which is a good thing, since Domino is one of the least interesting and less admirable figures of the period covered in the book.  I didn’t find the writing to be particularly engaging and felt like I had to trudge along through some of it, but the information is worth knowing.