How The Flash taught me to be a man
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Our world is filled with heroes. Men and women in capes with god-like powers protecting the innocent from the clutches of evil. Unfortunately for us, all those heroes happen to exist on the pages of comics or on the big screen.
Far too often it feels like the real people we interact with are playing super-villains, egotistical maniacs terrorizing our life for reasons that we just can’t quite sympathize with. At least that was the case for me. Many of my early years were spent in anguish giving me a tragic backstory that would make even the likes of Batman feel bad for me.
I won’t bore you with the details; however, to lay the scene you need to understand that in my adolescence, I was crushed by a sense of doubt and self-hatred that was reinforced by my surroundings. This left me unsure about a lot of things; the main one, however, was always, “What am I going to do to not turn into the people who’ve hurt me?”
One of my biggest insecurities throughout my youth was that I didn’t fit in with all the men around me. I was effeminate, I cried constantly, and half of my time was spent in a constant panic that the fear inside me was going to get so overwhelming that it would physically manifest and shove me into a locker, like some kind of high-school bully Babadook.
I didn’t really want to be like the other kids at school though. They were children. But me? I was going to be a man. Arrogant I know, but I was 12. In my mind if I wasn’t going to end up being as awful as I thought the people in my life were, I needed a guide. I needed someone to show me to be man- no something more. I needed someone to teach me to be a super-man.
This is how I ended up with comics. It all started after reading an acquaintances’ collection of The Flash. I saw for the first time someone I truly wanted to be. Barry Allen wasn’t weak, he wasn’t afraid, he didn’t hate looking in the mirror each morning. He was my hero.
I had never idolized someone in media so much. Something about the way he always had an idea for any roadblock he encountered. Problems could never slow him down for long. The most important thing to me though was that The Flash was just so quick-witted, pun intended. I had always tried to use humor to deflect from the traumas of my childhood, but Barry Allen was next level. He had the ability to just use words to make people like him, and getting people to like me was something I always wanted to do.
I spent the next few months tearing through anything I could find with superheroes in it. Every man from Aqua to Spider and every woman from Wonder to Cat. I was entranced; in all of them I saw what I could be. Finally, there was a glimpse of something more than the mediocrity I was so sure I was doomed to. Superheroes in comics gave me what they give many people in their respective worlds: hope.
No matter what I read though, something always brought me back to The Flash. While I had always enjoyed The Flash comics the day everything truly clicked for me was the day I first read Geoff Johns’ Flashpoint. In this comic, more so than ever I saw my idol go from god to a fallible man. Barry made a decision that damaged the lives of everyone just because it improved his own. In the same way that many people have to find out later in their life their parents aren’t perfect, I had to find out a man in a red skin-tight body suit wasn’t perfect.
Shocking, I know. Seeing The Flash fail is possibly the most influential thing that has happened in my life to date for one single reason, and that was because he redeemed himself. Like I had done many times already and would do so many times more The Flash acted out of fear and made a poor decision. But then he did what I had never considered doing up until then. He recognized his mistake, admitted he was scared to fix it, and trudged on anyways making choices that were not easy but right. This comic was the first time I saw my hero fail, which in turn gave me permission to fail. It was the first time I saw him cry, which made all the nights I spent crying okay. It was the first time I truly saw myself in comics not as the petrified civilian who needs rescue, but as a hero who had made mistakes and was able to move forward from them.
After reading Flashpoint I wish I could say I was suddenly fixed. That I spent everyday as a happy-go-lucky kid who didn’t jump when someone’s locker closed too loud, but I can’t. I was still afraid, still cried more than I would have cared to, and still spent some nights thinking how it may be nicer if the sun didn’t rise. But I went forward from that day with an understanding that none of those things stopped me from being who I wanted to be. A man, super or not, was not defined by his weaknesses. What differentiated a Batman from a Joker was the ability to accept when you’ve failed, to face the fear that is failure, and run at it full force to try to make it right.
Featured Image: Alexander Smith
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