Comics, Film

Remember, Remember

Remember, remember, the Fifth of November, the Gunpowder Treason and Plot. I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot… But what of the man? I know his name was Guy Fawkes and I know, in 1605, he attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament. But who was he really? What was he like? We are told to remember the idea, not the man, because a man can fail. He can be caught, he can be killed and forgotten, but 400 years later, an idea can still change the world.

I love comic books. I love comic book movies. And I love comic book fandom. This should all be obvious, right? I expect you, dear reader, understand my affection, or why would you be reading? This is a blog by and for comic book readers and lovers. You are not reading so you might learn how to change the world. Our mission statement has nothing to do with changing the world and that’s okay. It’s just a comic book blog.

Well, today I’m going to talk about changing the world. I’ll start with a story. When I was seven I went to the movies. I remember it very clearly, the theater we were in and the long line to get popcorn — and on screen the long line of stormtroopers and the flash of lightsabers. We saw The Return of the Jedi and I have been in love with Darth Vader ever since. Vader’s choice to put his son before everything he’d spent his life believing defined love for me. To this day I believe the following things because of that movie: (1) everyone is capable of love, (2) everyone is capable of change, and (3) though I wouldn’t put it in these words when I was seven, toppling an empire takes thirty years of hard work and hope — and one right choice to reverse all the wrong ones.

a screen cap of Darth Vader mid-decision
Photo credit: Lucasfilm/Disney

Let me put it a different way. A conversation between two old friends:

– …some of us hold onto guilt and shame far too long. There’s a strange security in misery, it’s almost comfortable. Taking the risk of moving on, that’s terrifying. For Erik it’s always been about family. Building a home–a world–where he can be safe, where he need never again feel afraid. It always gets twisted because the child in him can’t escape those nightmares, and wants revenge.

– You could just as easily be describing Wanda.

– The hell of it is, the force that drives them is love. From that love, for that love…they yearn–they strive–for an ideal. What could be more primal? More profound? Combine their power with such passion…anything is possible. Even redemption.

That’s Charles Xavier and Stephen Strange regarding Magneto and his daughter, from Excalibur 14 (the prelude to House of M).

In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Dumbledore tells us, along with Harry, It is not our abilities that show what we truly are… It is our choices. To put it another way, It’s not who I am underneath…but what I do that defines me. (Batman Begins). Or another conversation, Shayera Hol and Alfred Pennyworth in Justice League:

– They’ve been in there a long time.

– Yes miss, they have. If I may be so bold… I’m neither a superhero nor a soldier, so I’m hardly qualified to judge your actions by those standards. But I do know this: without the great sacrifices you’ve made, we wouldn’t be here to share this nice pot of tea. Whatever they decide in that room, in my eyes, you’ll always be a hero.

a screen cap of Alfred Pennyworth offering Shayera Hol a cup of tea
Photo credit: WB

Sacrifice. Choice. Action.

Going back to V, A building is a symbol, as is the act of destroying it. Symbols are given power by people. A symbol, in and of itself, is powerless, but with enough people behind it, blowing up a building can change the world. Or said another way, in song on the Disney Channel:

So come on and raise your voice
Speak your mind, make some noise
You can’t just sit back and watch the world change
It matters what you’ve got to say
There’s no one else who can stand in your place

Hey, if you don’t think Hannah Montana can change people’s minds you haven’t been paying much attention over the last two years. Or as School of Rock’s Dewey Finn says, One great rock show can change the world.

I’m not a super hero or a wizard or a rock star. I am a  single working mother from Connecticut. I have two daughters, three brothers, and four cats. I work at a university. On Tuesday I cast my vote for the Board of Education in my little town. It didn’t make MSNBC or The Daily Show the way the gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia did, but local politics count more than people realize. The Board of Ed directly affects my children’s lives.

Midway through V for Vendetta, Evey finds and reads the diary of Valerie, a young woman imprisoned and finally killed for being a homosexual. Valerie writes of coming out to her parents, My father wouldn’t look at me. He told me to go and never come back. My mother said nothing. But I’d only told them the truth. Was that so selfish? Our integrity sells for so little, but it is all we really have. It is the very last inch of us. But within that inch we are free. And her story ends:

It seems strange that my life should end in such a terrible place, but for three years I had roses and apologized to no one. I shall die here. Every inch of me shall perish. Every inch, but one. An inch. It is small and it is fragile and it is the only thing in the world worth having. We must never lose it or give it away. We must NEVER let them take it from us. I hope that whoever you are, you escape this place. I hope that the world turns, and that things get better. But what I hope most of all is that you understand what I mean when I tell you that, even though I do not know you, and even though I may never meet you, laugh with you, cry with you, or kiss you, I love you. With all my heart, I love you. Valerie.

a screen cap of Every reading Valerie's story
Photo credit: WB

It recalls another quote: I’ve had successes and setbacks and sometimes painful ones. Many of you are at the beginning of your professional, public, and political careers — you will have successes and setbacks too. This loss hurts, but please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it. It is, it is worth it. And so we need — we need you to keep up these fights now and for the rest of your lives … And to all of the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams. (Hillary Clinton, 2016)

In town there is an arboretum named after my mother. She wasn’t a super hero or a wizard or a rock star, either. But a long row of trees stands only because she became a loud voice in local politics. She wanted those trees to outlive her and they did because she fought for them. Under her name on the sign it says: “She spoke for the trees”, referencing Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. I was raised to believe one person speaking the truth, no matter who she is or what her truth is, is enough to inspire change. I witnessed it.

Or put another way: I’ve witnessed first hand the power of ideas, I’ve seen people kill in the name of them, and die defending them… but you cannot kiss an idea, cannot touch it, or hold it… ideas do not bleed, they do not feel pain, they do not love… And it is not an idea that I miss, it is a man… A man that made me remember the Fifth of November. A man that I will never forget.

I’m not convinced comic books can’t change the world. Just like any other story, they are ideas.

This article was first posted November 5, 2009 at Fantastic Fangirls. Updated November 9, 2017.

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