by Ryan (Flyn) Stevens
I was little, very little, when Naked Boy came into being. He had no alter ego, because I was too young to understand what that was. He was by all means super, and his powers were unmatched. As Naked Boy, I would fly across the house, cheeks gleaming like the moon, pudgy thighs and belly borne for the world to see, and a cape made from a blue towel drawn around my neck.
My parents perpetuated this excuse to stall before entering the bathtub, chanting my theme song before each sprint down the hallway: “Duhduhduh naaaah nanaaaaaah! Naked Boy!”
Years down the road, Naked Boy would be abandoned, in favor of Captain Ryan and his gang of galactic crewmembers. Captain Ryan and his trusted sisterly comrades would brave each and every playground, leaping from monkey bars to benches to pick up fuel cell pinecones and radioactive sticks. There was never a task too difficult for Captain Ryan, and though he wore no cape, his deeds saved countless invisible interplanetary lives from the dangers of jungle-gym-space travel, much to dad’s approval.
Even through junior high, Jedi duels in the yard with plastic hand-shattering light sabers and games of augmented war-hockey in the cul-de-sac became slightly abnormal versions of caped crusaders. Sometimes I would vanquish a tennis ball. Other times it was an untrained neighbor kid. This was all in the name of truth and justice, symbolized by a foam shield I had acquired at LEGOLAND. This brand of superhero was silenced only by the need to become more socially acceptable, or as some call it, “mature.”
Eventually it was no longer cool to favor Green Lantern over football, or Hulk over Chemistry. My expertise, which had come from a lifetime of living out the battles of various heroes, had to take on a new role. I couldn’t be the heroes, but I could certainly know them (in the privacy of my own home of course). My walls became littered with pictures, hand colored and carefully researched, of every hero I had grown up to enjoy. Superman’s underwear-like supersuit, Ironman’s repulsor chest, Green Arrow’s unlimited arsenal of archery, Flash’s Speed Force, even Martian Manhunter’s eerie laser-eyed stare consumed the plain white walls of my room.
I knew everything about them. I could tell you that Hulk had come from a failed version of Captain America’s super serum. I could recite the seven founding members of the Justice League without hesitation. I knew that Hawkman technically came from a different planet, and that Batman’s belt could only be accessed by his own DNA. A wealth of knowledge had accumulated, all of which had to be stifled to maintain friendships.
A few more years, and college would hit, along with movies like Ironman, The Dark Knight, Man of Steel, and of course, The Avengers. These films would bridge the gap between the comic-book readers and the summer-blockbuster-lovers, and most importantly, my superhero know-how became not only valuable, but appreciated. Each time someone turns to ask “What’s his power again?” or “Who’s bad guy is that?” or “Why didn’t that guy die right there?” I think back to my bedroom wall, Captain Ryan, and even sometimes Naked Boy (though usually I try not to dwell there).
True knowledge of a subject is not simply knowing lots about it, but why it is important. While I can explain that Captain America’s shield is composed of a fictional compound known as Vibranium, I can also tell that he was first invented in 1941, in the middle of World War II. Clad in the colors of the US flag, Cap was as a superhero who could fly over to Nazi-infested Germany, defeat the bad guys without killing a single man, and always stay true to the morals which guided him there. He was a symbol of morality that reminded Americans that good always triumphs over evil.
The crux of superheroes is summed up brilliantly in the movie version of the Star-Spangled Captain, when his mentor says that “A strong man, who has known power all his life, will lose respect for that power. But a weak man knows the value of strength, and knows compassion.”
Superheroes embody the ideals that humanity, at its core, strives toward. Superheroes are more than nerdy stories about scientists in robotic armor. They’re about what it means to be ordinary, to be human.
My all-time favorite movie, The Avengers, made the most money opening week of any movie, of all time, ever. I can tell you without a doubt, that it’s not just the special effects or Robert Downey Jr.’s goatee that drew in fans from countries around the world. It’s that despite the fears of war, poverty, economic downfall, suffering, defeat, and loss, the ideals that make us human still, and will always, exist. That deep down, whether we’re running naked down a hallway, or fighting in a war, that we all have the ability to be super.
Ryan (Flyn) Stevens, though born in 1991, still retains the mind of a five year old. He aspires to teach high school English and ultimately inspire a passion for writing in his future students. This, as well as a deeply rooted love for Christ, the ultimate superhero.
The Avengers poster is from here.