Blame it on nature if you will, this exercise in testosterone management, this cruel Darwinian doctrine impelling one generation of angry, imperfect males to give birth to another generation of angrier, even more imperfect males. Considering Oedipal tradition, I happen to believe all this happens to keep the entire globe from going up in flames on a biweekly basis. My father in particular — largely by fault of the modern day Sparta referred to by most Americans as Massachusetts — was never able to integrate his bellicose New England credos* into suburban Colorado, where he and my mother had decided to make their home. But me, on the other hand, that was another story. I was fair game. Even though I never competed in sports, the man had named me after a Patriots Running Back. For all that is sacred, I didn't stand a chance.
In a land of conservative, happily Protestant plebes that stretched on as such until the late '90s, few prairie dwellers were accustomed to this six-foot-tall shirtless Hebrew mammoth in electric blue Spandex shorts and flip-flops, bald pate disguised with a Sox cap, dripping with tanning grease (SPF 2), mowing the lawn while his maroon LeBaron Convertible, parked sideways in the driveway, blared Queen's News of the World. And I admittedly was in the same place as they were. I was a boy who hated all things physical, who, when forced to watch his uncle flex his pectorals to "Take Me Home Tonight" or when witnessing his father rip a terrified man out of his car for cutting him off in traffic while screaming, "I will rip off your neck and shit down your throat," crawled deeper inside himself, awaiting the day when planet earth was run by people like his mother, who viewed human activity with an eerie acceptance of its imperfection and discovered the fruitlessness of force.
What is it, then, that keeps men in service to conflict with essentially their own reflections? Even though my fight with my male progenitor was rarely physical, I feel responsible to acknowledge the fervor in which my psyche strives to prove itself capable of achieving his same chutzpadik drive. It makes me wonder what Superman, the Son of Krypton himself, would have become if not removed from his homeland and hurtled through space into the arms of Midwestern aliens, into the arms of a woman who awed at his strength and a man who would never be able to best it, even on his strongest day. Is it from such removals that heroes like him derive their gentle decorum? Is it from the absence of the creature of Superman's likeness that his socialist imaginings emerged?
Comic book superheroes are like inoculations against fatherhood. Monolithic entities of galactic goodness that seek to rectify the savagery of generations past. Real superheroes, however, surround us every day, scrambling into their fortresses and bulwarking their bank accounts, always attempting to defeat the men who made them. Testosterone is a superpower of villainous design. Even our best intentions find it hard to placate. It's one part near-invincible strength, one part Kryptonite.
*Roughly: fuck you for looking at anyone or anything without utter indignation.
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Samuel Sattin's work has appeared in Salon magazine, The Good Men Project, io9, and Kotaku, and he has been cited in the New Yorker. He is a contributing editor at The Weeklings and author of the debut novel League of Somebodies.
Books mentioned in this post
Samuel Sattin is the author of League of Somebodies