I’m excited about Chris Nolan’s reboot of the Superman franchise, set to premiere on Friday.
I’ve been a Superman fan for as long as I can remember. I’ve seen all of the live action movies. I can even do line for line renditions of Superman II. I watched every single (and sometimes tedious) episode of Tom Welling’s 10-year journey to becoming Superman on “Smallville.” I’ve had hats, hoodies, capes, t-shirts with the “S” insignia and even considered getting it tattooed on my arm. I’ve had countless debates with friends and strangers alike about the merits and clear demerits of Superman vs. every other hero in either the DC or Marvel Universe, especially Batman. I’ve even written an astrological take on Superman (as a Gemini) for aol.com. (It’s offline now and they own the rights to it, so no link. Sorry.)
I know Supes is known as a corny, do-gooder with ridiculous powers, a ridiculous love life and with deep character flaws as he clearly lies to everybody close to him about who he really is. I still have hope that someone’s gonna get the character and story right for who he could be, even though few have. I still love him. Here’s why.
I was born with spina bifida. Without boring you with tedious definitions about what that means medically, let’s just say that I’ve had some 25+ operations, mostly early on in my life, to manage my disability. I spent most of my first five years of my life with casts on my feet from surgeries to correct my congenital clubfeet. I remember sitting up in my wheelchair or bed to watch the old, syndicated Superman TV series featuring George Reeves. I was awed by Superman’s might, flying and super-speed. But, of course, I would. What else would be as inspiring for a kid bound to a bed or wheelchair?
But the real hero of this story is my mother. As I’ve gotten older, I can’t imagine what it must have been like for her. It wouldn’t be until I was nearly an adult that she would tell me what doctors had been telling her. “Mrs. Reynolds, despite our surgeries, we can’t give you any assurances that Sam will walk normally, much less run and be active.” Or, “Mrs. Reynolds, there’s only a 50-50 chance that he’ll pull through this one.” Or, “Mrs. Reynolds, often children with Sam’s disabilities have cognitive deficits, so with special needs programs, he might one day be able to take care of himself. But he’ll still need special assistance for the rest of his life.” She wasn’t a young mother, and she had family, including my father, to support her; but it must have been beyond nerve wracking to hear all these things about my life chances, again and again with each surgery to fix my life.
But I was a kid, watching a White man save the world, from another planet, in a cape and tights. And, as a kid, nobody told me that little Black kids with spina bifida couldn’t fly or be super. So whenever I had my casts off, I would either have some Halloween Superman costume on with a cape or wrap some cloth around me and run through the house. Yes, run. I remember seeing the joy on my mom’s face when I would run. At the time, I just saw my mom being happy. Now as a grown man, I understand what she was seeing: a Super boy who had again proven the doctors wrong, again; who had given her a little more faith and a little more peace that I would be okay.
And over the years, as I let my imagination fly about Superman, I now can see what he did for me. He did, in fact, save me. He did inspire me. He got me out of my bed to be daring and believe that not only was life worth living, but it was worth doing it while facing challenges head on, for myself and for others. And he spared me of thinking I had to become a Man of Steel since he already was. I have never had any serious pretenses toward invincibility, but I’ve become keenly aware, as someone with a disability, that most able people actually feel the need to be invincible somehow. I have never had the luxury of thinking that I am my body. I have not succumbed to the idea that how the world sees me is how I must be. Or how the world does not see me is how I am not. I once wrote this poem about it:
Most people live Life underexposed
So their pain of living rarely shows.
Those crippled by Life’s lens
Wear pain on their skins
and the façade of invulnerability
Of course, I wholly recognize that some are negatively affected by their perceptions of me as a Black man. I know that some people see my 4’11” frame and feel the need to contextualize me as a midget or even feel somehow I got the short shrift by life itself. But these are not the conceptions of myself. For me, the first image of myself was as my mother’s Superman. So I will always believe in Superman.
And for the record, especially to my buddy Daniel Older, a Batman fan, I’m not really a Batman hater. I just like to talk about how crazy he is. Here’s proof: