Holding Out for a Hero
By Jaq Greenspon
Artwork by Brad Kozak
“There are a number of billionaires in the world and none of them have chosen to become Batman.” is how the meme reads. Martin had seen that meme bouncing around the Internet a few times and always chuckled at it. It was indeed true, that no matter how many people became billionaires, not one of them ever became a superhero. But then again, it had also been said that Bruce Wayne, the particular billionaire behind Batman’s mask, probably could have done more, for more people, as a philanthropist than as a costumed vigilante – it just wouldn’t have been as much fun.
It was odd that this particular meme jumped into Martin’s thoughts at the moment, though, just as the lump sum payment of somewhere north of $250 million dollars hit his accounts. It was one of the largest lottery wins in American history and it suddenly put Martin Liebowitz at least a quarter of the way towards that fabled billionaire status. He wondered what it would be like to be one-fourth Batman. He laughed. That made it sound like Batman was his maternal grandfather. He also laughed when he looked down at his middle-aged waistline and thought about the fallen arches which would have kept him out of the draft, had he been born 40 years earlier, or Iraq if he’d actually wanted to sign up. No, Batman was definitely out of the question.
But maybe Batman himself wasn’t the point. Maybe it was just the idea of Batman. Ideas were powerful things. It was the idea he could win the lottery which led him to buy a ticket, right? That old joke about meeting god halfway. His grandmother had taught him that one after they’d had a discussion about social media and Martin had explained that yes, god had a Facebook account. “Not God, big G, but ‘god.’” He had made air quotes around the name. “’God,’” he repeated with hands in the air for clarity, “has a Facebook page.” So, they had discussed god and God and technology.
“Then again,” his grandmother had pointed out, “maybe it is big G God. Probably not, but that’s the thing about the Internet, really, you have no idea who’s behind the account. Could be anyone. And if you believe in God, then think about it, what better way for him to communicate than through 280 characters, right?”
She had a point. Gram had it going on. It might take her a minute or two to grasp a concept, but when she did, she certainly had her own spin on it. Martin missed the old woman, who made up another 25% of her ancestry, along with Batman. She would have loved that comparison. But now, he thought about what she had said, and it bounced around his brain, like a pinball shooting off the reactive bumpers, racking up points.
It was true, you never did know who was behind an Internet account. When a celebrity “liked” one of your posts, was it really them or was it an assistant? Fictional characters had accounts, and someone had to be monitoring them, right? Was it the media department of the film company? This was the Spider-Man ethos in action, right, that it could be anyone behind the mask, so it didn’t matter who it was as long as they did the job. Martin laughed at himself. He’d gone from Batman to Spider-Man, DC to Marvel. Martin suddenly realized his entire moral compass had been aligned by long underwear superheroes.
So, if it could be anyone under the mask, Martin reasoned, it could be him. And now that he had money, it should be him. But what did that mean? Here, in the first half of the 21st century, how did one go about becoming a superhero?
Was there any place to get bitten by a radioactive spider or have a cannister of radioactive waste hit him in the face or maybe a bomb could explode nearby, showering him with some other sort of radiation? None of those things seemed likely. There was dearth of easily available radiation, even if you did have hundreds of millions of dollars at your fingertips. Then again, living in Las Vegas, maybe it would be enough to hijack one of those trucks driving through on their way to Yucca Mountain to dispose of nuclear reactor byproducts…except that hijacking was not what a good guy did. And if nothing else, Martin was determined that being a good guy had to be part of the equation.
And anyway, radiation could just as easily lead to bad things as it could to good. So no, radiation was out.
So was being a god. Alongside Gram in that generation, the other three quarters were also all good old-fashioned Jewish grandparents from the old country who covered their furniture with plastic whatever the season and always had a pocketful of hard candy “in case of a sore throat.” Sadly, Martin knew that no matter how far back he went in the family tree, Norse, Roman, Greek, or Themiscyran divinity was not to be found amongst the branches. They also confirmed his terrestrial origins, so being a son of an alien planet was, sadly but neccesarily, out of the question. Besides, those things would have marked him for possible hero-ness well before his financial windfall so in all honesty, it was the Bruce Wayne / Oliver Queen / Tony Stark pathway which would work best for him. All of which certainly made him wonder why he’d never thought of being a superhero before he had money? Martin supposed it was true that with great power must also come great responsibility which means that without the power, the money, he’d never really given any thought to his own responsibility.
If only he were really smart or clever. Or good with arrows.
Martin realized he’d gone full circle. The original question, in a lightly modified form, had come back around again. How, exactly, does one with loads of disposable income become a superhero? First, you need a manifesto.
No. Bad word choice. Manifesto had a connotation, an implied negative. What he needed was a plan of action. A creed if you will. Martin thought about it for a minute. Truth, Justice, and the American Way, aside from being taken, didn’t really work in today’s global society. What was the “American Way” anyway? No matter which side of the fence you were on, you knew there was a fence in America now. A big one. Maybe with a moat. So much so that dealing with anything specifically American meant you were going to piss off half the people you were trying to help. 50% wasn’t good enough. Martin knew if he was going to do this, he wanted a sell through rate of at least 80-85%. That seemed fair, right?
If he wanted that strong a reaction, he knew he was going to have to go international, fight for things no one, at least no more than 15% or so, could criticize. And since he was an American (the reason he originally thought of Superman’s war cry), he figured his superhero bailiwick should be outside of national borders. It was much easier to do good when it was for people who weren’t your neighbors.
Martin thought of the ills of the world, of all the causes begging for money on late night television. He could become Manna, bringing food to the starving. That would be good, right? He could make a show of showering food from heaven, hence the name, but that wouldn’t be terribly effective. Dropping bags of grain from a branded airplane might look good, but would it really serve the purpose he was going for? No, it wouldn’t. Being…bringing…Manna would require an infrastructure and distribution network. Kinda takes the individual glory out of the equation.
He put that idea aside for the time being. Stuck a pin in it, as it were. He could always return to it, fine tune it maybe if nothing else struck him.
Impoverished countries needed water or electricity. What if he could kill both those birds with one hero? Hydro Man could do that. Hydro Man could bring water and use it to make power! How hard could that be, he wondered. He would just need to get wells or canals dug and power plants constructed, then connect to the pre-existing power grids which would probably require some sort of governmental oversight from whichever country he wanted to help first. The second country might go quicker but still. Martin Liebowitz was starting to understand why these guys who dressed up in costumes fought single bad guys, one after another.
If only there were a faraway natural disaster for him to relieve.
He added Hydro Man to Manna on the “possible” list and kept going.
The Gardner had possibilities. He could distribute seeds for planting…but then would need the help of Hydro Man. On the list and keep going.
Professor? No, TED talks already had that one covered.
Turbo? Harnessing the wind. Not as many problems as water. He moved it higher on the list, but he continued to jot ideas, not wanting to settle just yet.
Over the next few days, the list grew, as did the money in the account, both thanks to interest. Coffee Man was an easy reject, as was Literacy. By the end, he was reduced to inanities like Textile Boy or The Knitter. His personal interest was waning while his financial interest was growing. Maybe, he thought, he was going about this the wrong way.
There were just too many complications in trying to change the world this way. Besides, the more he thought about it, the more he wanted to be a little smarter with his newfound wealth. Sure, he could help out from time to time, but really, it wasn’t only up to him. Everyone should pitch in and do their part, right? Maybe being a superhero was best reserved for comic books and blockbuster movies and he could write a check from time to time. Leave the planning and logistics up to people who were trained and actually had the time for it.
Besides, it’s not like there were any real supervillains to fight. Right?