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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

I spent half the year halfway around the globe, in New Zealand, a kind of Earth 2 orbiting opposite my life back here in Virginia. I traveled with my family, reprised my role as stay-at-home-Dad to my increasingly too-old children, but mostly I wrote.  After teaching and studying superheroes for three years, the leotarded legion muscled their way into my fiction. I’m drafting a novel about the grandson of a comic book artist who transforms into—well, maybe not a superhero yet, but he’s trying his best. I hit the half way mark as we were cramming our lives back into suitcases.

I couldn’t fly shelves of comic books and pulp novels to the southern hemisphere, so my other book-in-progress, a collection of essays about the early history of the genre, was waiting for me here. I like to see how ideas of the day (eugenics, fascism, colonialism, cold war politics) left their mark on the superhero’s chest.  Three of the essays are under submission at academic journals. The other three are primordial goo. Half way there.

I turned forty-five while away. To say I’m half way done with my life is optimistic. Does starting a blog count as a mid-life crisis? I’m also starting my first full-time teaching position since my fourteen-year-old daughter was born.  My son is ten. His childhood is at least half over, but he still blurts questions like: “Dad, can Wolverine’s claws cut through Captain America’s shield?” or “Who would win in a fight, Thor or Superman with his original powers?”

Things changed while I was on Earth 2. My kids’ grandparents are divorced now, with my father-in-law remarried to a woman half his age, my age. My relationship with my sister and brother-in-law, which was in freefall when I left, hit bottom, with no one sure how to meet each other half way. Only my writing keeps going. There’s a play and screenplay in the works too.

Superheroes are the one area of my life I have all the answers.

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