For my dad. The only real hero.

A column article by: Regie Rigby
So, I’m back. Properly back, this time. As a result of recent events in my personal life, and a couple of comments over on the boards, I’ve been thinking a lot about stuff lately. These comics we all love so much have a lot to say about heroes. A lot to say about what makes a person “heroic”. And you know what? A lot of it is bollocks. As a culture, we hold up the “heroic ideal” as the thing we all must aspire to. Throughout the millennia we have passed on stories about heroes - some true, some not, some both true and false. Names that resonate through the ages – Alexander, Hercules, Hector and Lysander, such great names as these*. And, indeed, other great names too. Batman, Spider-Man, Sgt Rock, Judge Dredd, Dan Dare – the list goes on, and on, and on. We love our heroes. But how many of the “heroes” we revere are truly worthy of the name? Never mind what the dictionary or the theorists say – what is a hero? There is, I think, a lot of rather lazy thinking – and a shedload of lazy writing in this area. There’s a tendency amongst some writers to say “the main character in this book is the hero” without bothering to consider the way that character behaves. We’ve spoken before about The Punisher, so I’ll not go on about him again at length, but he’s a good example of what I mean here. He might be the central character of the book. But he’s not a hero. So he lost his family in tragic, violent circumstances. Boo bloody hoo. Him and a lot of other people. I can’t see that that dignifies his subsequent murderous campaign of pretty much indiscriminate killing. I can’t see that the motivation for his mass murdering of anyone who contravenes his conception of what’s right lifts his actions above those of your common or garden murdering thug. I think I’ve referred to him as a “serial killer” before now, but actually I’m not sure he’s even deserving of that. No. For me, a hero is defined by his** actions. For me, in order to be a hero, your actions, and motivations, have to be both good, and just – and so often that is a grey area. Let’s look at a classical story by way of example. Take David and Goliath. It’s a pretty iconic story, and I’m sure you all know it. Plucky little David strides out against the towering brute that is Goliath. All present on the battlefield are convinced that the brave little sprout is doomed. How can the little guy possibly stand against the wall of malevolent muscle that stands snarling before him? Then, with a smile, the stalwart little guy whips out his slingshot, whirls it around his head and with deadly aim, knocks the giant down with one well placed shot. One up for the little guy! What a hero!*** But is he? Is he really? Because for a start, in every version of the story I’ve ever read (and I confess that none of them were from the actual bible, and certainly not in the original Hebrew, so some of the fine detail may have been lost on me...) David is shown to be a rather clever little bloke, while poor old Goliath is shown to be a bit of a thickie. In other words, since brain beats brawn every time**** David really always had the advantage. And what’s this slingshot business? Goliath had a club! All David had to be was a half decent shot and the poor old giant never had a damn chance! That’s not heroics – that’s superior weapons technology! Ooooooo – how brave! I’m exaggerating for effect of course, but would David still have been a hero if he’d pulled a gun? Because that’s effectively what he did. From Goliath’s point of view, David was an ASBO***** waiting to happen. He’s not a hero, he’s a smart arsed little git. He’s a hero in the story because, of course, the story was a written by people on David’s side. That’s the thing about heroes from history. They tend to be the people who won. I might well think of Nelson and Wellington as heroes – would I still think that if I was French? Proud as his achievements might’ve been, I don’t see many Brits queuing up to praise the heroic exploits of George Washington either. And it’s the same in comics. Is Batman really a hero? Oh sure, he does a lot of good. He acts with good motives, and he really does, I’m sure, believe he’s making things better. But is that enough? He does a lot of harm too. To suggest that there are so many costumed villains in Gotham is largely down to the existence of Batman is such a well worn riff, it’s almost a cliché. But it suits my argument, so I’ll use it. If he is responsible for the existence of the likes of The Joker and The Mad Hatter, isn’t his continued commitment to the cape and cowl, whatever his motivation, not heroic, but self indulgent? And then, you get to the fact that on more than one occasion, the Batman has not fought honourably, but cheated. You should understand that I approve wholeheartedly of this behaviour. At school I was small, clever, and (it seems to me now) something of an insufferable little tit. As a result, I got into more than one or two fights, usually with kids who were bigger, and physically much stronger, than I was. Fighting fair seemed to me to be a straightforward recipe for pain, and as such a profoundly stupid thing to do. So I cheated. So far as I was concerned, everything was fair game. I rarely lost a fight. Batman is like that. He knows he can’t beat Superman in a fair fight, so on every occasion where it has come to that, he’s cheated and used Krypronite. Who cares how he wins, so long as he does? It’s effective, but it’s not heroic. Neither is taking on a team of malevolent Martians and exploiting their phobia of fire to defeat them. Does that mean Batman isn’t a hero? I don’t know. It’s an ambiguous area. One man’s hero is another man’s dangerous extremist after all, and who am I to judge? Far better, I think, to explain what a real hero is, so far as I’m concerned. Let me tell you about my Dad. Graham Rigby was, in many ways an unremarkable man. No cape. No silly costumes. Hundreds of gadgets, so he wasn’t totally unlike Batman, but frankly he was of a far more practical bent than Bruce Wayne ever was. He worked harder than Bruce Wayne ever did too. Wayne might have had the Wayne Foundation as a way of “doing good”. My Dad just got stuck in directly. For more than thirty years he ran the Youth Club in my village. Literally generations of kids got all sorts of opportunities because “Rig” (as they knew him) gave up his time to see that they did. An old Scout himself, when me and my big sister got involved in the Scout Movement he threw himself back at that too. For years I had the best equipped patrol in the troop because every time we needed something, he’d build it. He gave his time, his compassion and his endless patience without complaint or desire for reward to pretty much anyone who needed it – often at some cost to himself. And for me, that’s what made him a hero. He’d laugh (or possibly tut) if he were to read this, but he taught me what real heroics are. If I had to boil it down to a formula it would be time+compassion+selflessness+effort. If I had to provide an example, it would be my Dad. Tailor to the Royal Household, the House of Lords and pretty much anyone else who’d ordered a bespoke suit, had it messed up by their tailor, and needed it fixing. Even at work my Dad spent most of his time fixing things so that other people could look good. There’s nothing in comics that comes anything like close to my Dad. In the whole thirty six and a half years of my life he never once let me down. Not once. What problems he had, he shielded us from – right up until the end. I remain convinced that he knew a lot more about the terminal brain tumour that took him from us than he ever let on, and I’m sure that this was mostly so that we wouldn’t have to worry. Selfless and determined to the last, my Dad died, peacefully, last Saturday morning. He was a good man. That makes him the best kind of hero there could ever be. You don’t need a cape for that. He was robbed of the chance to grow old, but still, Dylan Thomas put it better than I could. This is for you Dad. Thank you. Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Though wise men at their end know dark is right, Because their words had forked no lightning they Do not go gentle into that good night. Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, Do not go gentle into that good night. Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light. And you, my father, there on the sad height, Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray. Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Dylan Thomas. * “But of all the world’s great heroes, there’s none that can compare, with a tow row row row row row, for the British Grendiers!” Sorry. I had to sing that song every week for about three years at primary school. If you don’t get the reference, don’t worry about it. If you do, I’m betting your school had the same song book mine did… **Or her. I know the word for a female hero is “heroine”, but for now, for the sake of clarity and the avoidance of extra typing, I’m taking the easy way out and using the word “hero” as a unisex term. ***And as a little guy myself, I have to admit that story has always had more than a little resonance for me. ****Unless, of course, Brawn gets the first punch in, in which case brains are pretty much screwed… *****Note to non-Brits. An ASBO, or “Anti Social Behaviour Order” is something you get slapped on you in the UK if you’re enough of a tearaway to piss people off, but not quite bad enough to be worth locking up. They can limit your movement, forbid you from associating with known trouble makers or force you to stay indoors at specified times. Breaking one gets you a criminal record. The idea was to put the frighteners on young thugs before they really got themselves into a life of crime. They work about as well as you’d imagine…

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