Look for the Heroes

Yesterday yet another tragedy occurred within our nation’s borders.  What happened during yesterday’s marathon in Boston is nothing new, yet, of course, no less tragic.  The news reports lately seem to be filled with reports like this, of people committed these horrendous atrocities.

These people, no matter what brought them to do their dreadful deeds, are villains, plain and simple.

While writing my first book about superheroes, I did a lot of research into the concepts behind villainy, what types of things actually brought people to the point where they would perform terrible acts against their fellow man.  I quickly became aware that there’s very little difference between the villains of real life and the villains of the comic book world (or any literature for that matter).  There is a plethora of excuses these people use as reasons for enacting their evil plots.  And, just like the villains of comic-book fame, they seem to harbor very little care for how this will directly affect the people who are immediately involved.  It’s usually to send some sort of message, even if the message is as small as “notice me!”.

I also researched the heroes of the world, the people who we find in these situations that truly step up and do something completely amazing to help those in need.  Yesterday’s events brought many such people into focus, such as the runners who completed the marathon and then ran to give blood for those who had been injured, or the first responders, who, as always, leapt into action to help every single person they could.  The weird thing is, we don’t seem to have much information available on these people.  The motivations behind their actions, the things in their lives that brought them to their saving acts, just never receive any form of focus.  Unfortunately, probably in part because of this lack of background, these people, many times, become completely forgotten.

Wesley Autrey, who some may remember as the Subway Savior, in 2007 jumped onto a subway track to save a complete stranger.  He received a great deal of press back then, yet, he mostly shied away from the press, stating his famous phrase “I’m not a hero.”  Sure, he made the rounds on several talk shows, but, in the end, he saw himself as just a man who saw someone in need and did what he could to help him.

Or the amazing acts of the first responders to the September 11th attacks, resulting in the fatality of many fine men and women who were “simply doing their job”.  Their job, in their minds, being how they needed help people no matter what the risks to themselves may be.

These people, these heroes, they’re where you see the real difference between comic books and real life.  These aren’t people who are safe from danger.  They aren’t leaping into action, knowing that nothing can hurt them.  They are real life and blood humans, in their frail human bodies, risking life and limb to help their fellow man.  They don’t dress in garish costumes hoping to get noticed.  They do their jobs, or, in many cases, well beyond what should be considered a part of their job, day in and day out with almost no recognition for their deeds.  And in many cases, without getting paid in a way that reflects the risks of their jobs.

These deeds do sometimes receive some notice.  In fact, both DC and Marvel produced some amazing work as an homage to those who gave their lives as heroes after the September 11th attacks.  Both companies presented some amazing heartfelt work showcasing these true heroes of the world.

But is it enough?

Too often, the villains get publicized and immortalized.  James Holmes, the shooter during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises last summer, is a name many more people are familiar with than those such as Jon Blunk, Matt McQuinn, or Alex Teves (names that took me quite a bit of searching to find), who made themselves into human shields and ultimately died during the same event.  The wikipedia page for the shooting itself is filled with information regarding Holmes, but when it comes to the heroes, the above listed names only appear as victims, nothing more.

But that’s the thing: these people don’t do what they do for fame or publicity.  They don’t do it so they can go down in the history books as a hero.  They do it because that’s who they are, people who care enough for their fellow man to risk their own lives to save them.

The story of yesterday’s bombing will undoubtedly focus on the identification of the bomber(s). We will all mourn the passing of those who paid the ultimate price.  But in the end, the story will focus on the villain, not the heroes.  There’s another place where comic books and real life diverge.

A common message that goes out during times like these is one (currently attributed to Mr. Rogers, which Snopes claims to be accurate) says we should look for the helpers at times like this in order to see God’s hand.  That’s a great message.  Look for the helpers, mourn the lost.  Unfortunately, the villain’s face is, all too often, the one we’ll connect with any such tragedy.

My heart goes out to everyone effected by yesterday’s bombing.  This shouldn’t be the type of thing anyone should ever have to go through.  I fear that as long as we give the villain this opportunity to get center stage, we won’t be seeing the end of these types of things any time soon.