Barry Smith: Irrelativity
Aspen, CO, Colorado
In last week’s column, I shared my experience of watching nervously as someone was being robbed on the subway in NYC. But there was one detail that I left out due to space constraints and my desire to stay on topic.
True detail: While this thief is working his way toward stealing his victim’s computer bag, I’m feeling powerless, wishing I knew what to do. Sitting directly across from me is a kid, a cute, unassuming kid with oversized glasses, probably a high schooler, pretty small for his age. At one point, this kid looks over at the robbing action and then directly at me and abruptly stands up from his seat. He grabs the zipper on the front of his shirt and zips it down dramatically. So dramatically that I think, “Yes! He’s a superhero! He’s changing into his costume, and he’s going to save the day.”
No, really … I actually thought that for a second. I read a lot of comic books.
He unzips his shirt to reveal a plain white T-shirt. OK, so maybe he’s not one of those flashy, initial-on-the-chest kind of heroes. He’s more of a grassroots hero. That’s cool. Then he starts taking his pants off. Makes sense. Don’t want to ruin your street pants by fighting crime in ’em. He’s wearing sweats underneath, and they’re a little too big for him, so he’s struggling to keep them from coming off with his pants.
Take your time, little dude, take your time. We’re all counting on you.
He pulls a pair of shiny black overall-looking things from his duffle bag and puts them on over the sweats. Then a uniform top comes out of the bag – a marching-band uniform. He then takes out his marching-band hat and sets it on the seat next to him.
It’s Marching Band Man! This is a superhero I’m unfamiliar with, and I’ll admit that I’m not exactly filled with confidence. What are his powers? High-stepping in 4/4? How’s that gonna help?
He gets off at the next stop. Turns out he wasn’t a superhero after all but merely a band kid on game day who didn’t want to ride the subway in his uniform or change clothes on the sidewalk. You probably worked this out a lot sooner than I did.
But he could have been. He could have been a normal kid who suffered a tragic radioactive band-camp accident that left cymbals fused to his hands, and he decided to devote his life to fighting crime. That’s the way these things work. Everybody knows that.
As he exited the subway, I thought, “Ha, Marching Band Man.” What was I thinking? Could there be a more useless example of superhero powers?
Then I realized, yes … yes, there could. I even took a few moments to carve a short list right there on the plastic subway seat.
The Medium: After a tragic radioactive beer-spilling accident in a crowded baseball stadium, The Medium found that he had the eerie ability to talk to the dead. About sports. And only about sports. Initially police would bring him to homicide scenes to ask the victim to identify their killer, but they got tired of hearing the deceased’s opinions about playoffs and draft picks and such.
Roly Poly Man: Bitten by a radioactive roly poly, Roly Poly Man took on supercharged versions of this insect’s characteristics. As a giant roly poly, he creates a daunting figure, with the exoskeletal armor and dozens of menacing legs. But the common criminal (or congratulatory bystander) need merely slap him on the back, and he curls into a protective ball and stays there until trouble has blown over.
The Flush: The fastest man alive. At times, the Flush can run at unimaginable, superhuman speeds but only during bathroom emergencies. Good news for him, not so helpful for your average citizen in need. Detectives find the Flush particularly useless on Taco Tuesdays.
The Blimp: He can fly. But not fast. And he can’t land. And he can’t really control the direction that he flies in. Actually, he doesn’t fly so much as just floats aimlessly around, his course dictated by the wind and by the kids who enjoy throwing rocks at him. This astounding ability, the result of a radioactive something or other, continues to baffle scientists the world over. Still, pretty useless as a superpower. The Blimp doesn’t let this uselessness keep him from a life of crime fighting, though … just from a life of effective crime fighting.
(Next time: Supervillains who also work retail.)
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