Thursday, December 23, 2010

Adoration: Childhood Heroes

Iron Man poster, copyright of Marvel studios
It's been a little difficult figuring out what direction to take next after writing "Affliction: Childhood Wounds". That post took quite a bit out of me mentally and emotionally.

I think recounting the story of the "heroes" that I began to look up to is the right place for me to visit next.

Sometime during the years in elementary school in the midst of all that was happening to me, I think my mind latched on to the idea of a 'Guardian' or 'Protector' as its defense mechanism. Looking back, I guess what that 10-year old boy longed for was a bodyguard, someone powerful who would step in between him and the world, and stop anyone who would hurt him in future. In any case, my heart responded with a passionate search for someone who would fulfill that craving.

This search for the 'Guardian' figure became a very important 'lens' that filtered all that I subsequently read or watched during my childhood and teenage years. It characterized the characters in the cartoons and television shows that I gravitated towards and still vividy remember: Bionic Six, Centurions, Dino Riders, Gundam, Iron Man, Macross, M.A.S.K, Pole Position, Transformers, Knight Rider, Airwolf, Streethawk, MacGyver, North and South, The A-Team, The Equalizer and many more. It dictated the kinds of comic books that I occasionally flipped through at a supermarket or bookstore - Iron Man, Transformers, and occasionally, Batman. It most definitely had a powerful influence on the kinds of toys that I liked and wanted to played with, most of which were related to the television shows that I watched.

However, most of the imaginary heroes that I looked up to eventually could not satisfy what I was looking for; there always seemed to be something missing, or disappointing in each character that resulted in dissatisfaction. Thus, I moved on from one to another, in a fruitless search. Of all these non-existent people that my heart was enamoured by, there was one in particular that was the most important to me.

I first met Iron Man around the age of 8, while flipping through an ancient Marvel Annual storybook from the 1950's that belonged to my mother. Of all the superheroes featured in their individual stories, I was instantly mesmerized by that of Anthony Edward Stark and his armoured alter ego. I vividly remember the admiration I felt for the first time, looking at an illustration of Iron Man with bullets deflecting off his shining red and gold armour; it seemed to be an instant recognition of all that my heart had been looking for.

In retrospect, I am convinced that I fell in love with Iron Man not primarily because of Tony Stark's brilliant engineering or debonair personality, but because of the Iron Man armour itself. My eight-year old self fell in love with the armour, for that was what I wanted to do with my heart:

I wanted armour for my heart, believing that
it would protect me against pain inflicted by other people.

Iron Man render for the first Iron Man movie

But there's more. Two days ago, it occurred to me that my resonance with the Iron Man story occurs on an even deeper level that I'd never seen before. Because at its core, the story of Tony Stark and Iron Man is really that of a man with a damaged and broken heart. The entire Iron Man story begins with Tony building the armour to keep his shrapnel-ridden heart alive, and to escape from the enemies around him. Even as a child, I immediately grasped the metaphor of the story and instinctively aligned it with my personal pain and hurt, though it's only now that I'm actually cognizant of it and able to verbalize it properly. I suppose it's no accident that one of the most powerful lines that I remember from all the Iron Man comic books that I've ever read, are Tony's concluding words as he sits at a window and looks at snow falling outside:

"I wish I had a heart."

For the next two decades, Iron Man would become my definitive "superhero", because of these two powerful components that riveted my attention and I identified with so strongly - Tony Stark's damaged heart, and the armour that he built to protect it and keep him alive. But Tony Stark and Iron Man could not meet the need that I was looking for, though I badly wanted it; they only became the symbol of what was going on inside me. Even as I write this now, God is bringing me to some new realizations. But I will reserve those for the next post. See you then!

- The Wisdom Seeker