I've been a comic book reader nearly all my life. I taught myself to read using the balloons that crowded their panels, and I can still remember the very issue with which I first began to understand the interplay of words and pictures by actually decoding the former rather than making inferences via the latter. It was issue #125 of "The Brave and the Bold," cover-dated March, 1976 and featuring Batman teaming up with the Flash. In fact, the difference between being able to read and not read was contained in the Batman's red-suited co-star: Before I could read, my barely five-year-old brain knew him as "Lightning Man." After, he was simply the Flash.
I had so absorbed these characters into my very identity that when, in 2011, DC Comics proposed abandoning roughly 75 years of continuity and starting over, invalidating histories and relationships I had spent my life learning, that the news was one of several factors that helped create my own ongoing midlife crisis. Call it, "Crisis on Earth 40-Year-Old." (That's me on the bottom right of the cover; really, you should have been there.) They had broken faith with me: buy this stuff, learn these stories, we'll keep building on ‘em so that that knowledge is worth something. Oh well, so ... where do I return this stuff?
I probably should have read the fine print. You learn, though. Even at that age you can learn. Bob Dylan sang, "Don't follow leaders and watch your parking meters." To that I would add, "Don't base your personal secular religion on intellectual property owned by a for-profit publishing company." Insight.
Of all the characters with all the made-up powers that I encountered of my years enthralled was not flight or X-ray vision but one of the hardest to define, "cosmic awareness." This talent was given to Marvel Comics' version of Captain Marvel, not the original, but their pale knock-off created merely to secure the copyright on the name. The Marvel Marvel didn't have much going for him until a young writer-artist named Jim Starlin took him on and gave him the only powers that could claim to flow from a hippie sensibility. As explained by a floating chocolate rum-ball called Eon (like old "Star Trek," the aliens in old comic books suffered from budgetary restrictions), "YOU HAVE LIVED AND ACCEPTED THE WAYS OF THE WARRIOR! THE UNIVERSE NOW NEEDS NOT A WARRIOR, BUT A PROTECTOR!"
In pursuit of this goal, which would, let's face it, benefit not just the universe but the odd denizen of coastal flood zones, Eon must remake Captain Marvel. "YOU HAVE BECOME AWARE! OUR TASK IS NOW TO EXPAND THAT AWARENESS, TO SHARPEN ALREADY KEEN SENSES, TO TIGHTEN HAIR-TRIGGER REFLEXES. ... WE HAVE ENHANCED YOUR TOTAL RECEPTION TO LIFE. YOU HAVE BECOME AWARE, NO MOVEMENT TOO SLIGHT TO SEE, NO SOUND TOO LOW TO HEAR, NO SMELL TOO FAINT TO DETECT. FOR ALL THINGS IN THE UNIVERSE ARE NOW ONE WITH YOU!"
Yeah, I don't know what it means either. Basically, Captain Marvel was omniscient. Visually, this meant that (as Grant Morrison put it), "his features would often cloud over with a beautiful graphic representation of starry, unbounded consciousness. His face would plunge into shadows lit with moving star fields and nebulae, with only his two blue eyes gazing out of infinite space at us." This was usually followed by hitting people, which wasn't too different from what the non-cosmically aware super-heroes did. (Marvel did once use his cosmic awareness to self-diagnosis cancer, albeit too late -- how much utility does a tardy omniscience really have?)
You and I cannot hope for cosmic awareness, for omniscience. The best we can hope for is a tiny, miniscule slice of perspective. Insight.
Last week, I asked SBN's Designated Columnists to provide some idiosyncratic best-ofs of 2012. For this shortened holiday week we could have gone with that old warhorse, new year's resolutions, but I wanted to try something different . Acting on the perhaps overly-generous assumption that we had each learned something over the past year (or years, or lifetimes), I picked several broad subject areas, subjects like life and death and pumpernickel, which require something like cosmic awareness to negotiate, and asked each of the DCers to relate them to baseball. The results will appear here over the remainder of this week, beginning today with "Friendship" and "Death."
I know we're not all seeing -- even I, having traded one eye for wisdom, understand that -- but each of us are, in our own ways, learning the big secrets. Sometimes in sabermetric analysis we get lost in the decimal points, but we can find just as much, if not more, value by pulling back the camera and finding the big secrets in the big picture. It has often been said that baseball is a microcosm of our greater world. Here is where we put that idea to the test.