In Every Heart Lies a (Super)Hero

X-Men fascinated me as a kid and remains my favorite comic to date. Here are a group of individuals whom the world hates and fears, and yet despite persecution, they continue to fight for a greater good. These heroes are a reflection of ourselves and what we aspire to be in times of need. Superheroes aren’t about powers, they’re about a hope of our own potential.

Superheroes aren’t about powers, they’re about a hope of our own potential

I grew up gay in the Northern woods of Maine. Let’s discuss growing up being hated, ostracized, and ridiculed. I was different even before I understood the word. I hid with comic books, receding into a world of fantastical stories, except, in the comics I read, those who were different didn’t hide. X-Men presented an alternative narrative, a window into another world in which I embraced my differences and stood up to injustice. The greatest moments in comics aren’t the use of adamantium claws or telekinesis, they’re the moments when the hero stood and said, “No more.”

I wanted to be a hero.

As an adolescent, I related most to X-Men’s Rogue. This young mutant discovers she has the ability to steal powers, but every time risks killing her victim. Stories revolved around her questioning this curse and how she wanted to be “normal.” Her teammates would ask why she would want to give up this gift, and as an adolescent, I sympathized with this quest for normalcy. But despite her internal struggle, she reluctantly fought to save the same world stoking her inner demons. The first time I threw a fist in school, it was to silence a bigot. My knuckles hurt and I left covered in bruises, but I walked away with a sense of pride. My differences made me a mark. My stature made me strong. For the first time, I let go of an internal struggle and felt the pieces of my identity fall into place. I started my quest to become a hero.

I continued to read comics as I formed my sense of self. I sympathized with Rogue’s desire for normalcy, but I started to see these differences as a strength. I started to see myself as Colossus, the soul of an artist with a moral compass always pointing North. Reluctant to take up arms, Piotr Rasputin used his gifts to protect his adopted family and make the world a better place. While my muscles may not be quite that large or my hide quite so steely, as an adult, I understand the struggle to do what’s right in the face adversity. As I read about firefighters rushing into burning buildings and police officers returning children to families, I see the world has heroes. We as a society look on wondering, “If I were in their shoes, could I be heroic?”

I spend copious amounts of time wondering about the legacy I will leave on the world when I die. I am a teacher by trade and each day I stand in front of a room filled with tiny potential villains. Some of my wards have discovered who they are, but for the most part, they are just beginning to explore who they may be for the rest of their lives. It’s not easy, and in the world we live in, there are so many screaming voices demanding they be one thing or another. In my classroom I am Charles Xavier, an individual demanding the best and giving them safe refuge from a world that quite frankly, needs to shut the fuck up. On most days, I feel like a useless employee, but every once in a while, I walk away feeling like a hero.

When I started writing, it was an outlet to poke fun at a job that made me miserable. My characters were comical and thrown into outlandish situations similar to the Scooby Doo and the gang. The Suburban Zombie Series isn’t a life changing piece of literature but a coping mechanism, an escape from a dull workplace into something more lively. It was while looking through notebook from middle school that I found comic scripts created by kids who were different. Sitting in a dining room drawing and writing away, they tried to make sense of a world where they didn’t quite fit in. Nighthawks is an homage to the heart of those kids. Even as I wrote the first book, I found myself caught in an internal struggle, one I’m not entirely proud of. I might be playing at hero, but not every fight was a victory.

I might be playing at hero, but not every fight was a victory.

I knew I wanted a diverse cast, a group of people that represented the melting pot of America. I made conscious choices, my point-of-view characters include two white men, an older white female, a hispanic female and a female gargoyle. The first round of writing had the characters all with similar backgrounds, but as I felt they looked like a white washed collection of identical storylines, they needed something beyond my personal experiences.

For the supporting cast, I decided to step outside my comfort zone with a Muslim female and a black male with Aspergers. Alyssa, a proud first generation Muslim American originally wore a “head scarf.” But as I worked my way through the first draft, I thought, if I were that young individual, one who wore a “head scarf,” what would I think? Is this the hero I’d want to look up to? I set aside the fear and delved into Muslim culture, learning all I could about the hijab and its representation. I was nervous. I still am. But I created a character, a hero that struggled to be an example for those like her.

Meanwhile, my main protagonist, loosely based on me, I shied away from for fear of being known as the “gay” author. I watered it down, fearful again of my own identity and the potential pressure of fans. In Nighthawks, Conthan and Dwayne are hinted at being gay, but I awkwardly let it slide, refusing to pick a clear path for them. I was able to hide behind a complex storyline and a long series of actions. But ultimately, I found myself thinking back to the reason I first read comics. Where was the hero I’d look up to? In Nighthawks, I hadn’t found him, in Night Shadows, I made sure it happened.

The man can tear open black holes and teleport. In the books he’s one of the most powerful men in the world. However, his abilities have never made him a hero. The moment he owned his uniqueness, I found myself respecting the man. More than respect, I found myself standing in his shoes asking myself, “Given the same circumstances, could I step up and be the hero he’s become?”

I am never entirely sure.

It’s about seeing our best selves on the page working through our fears to do what’s right

It’s never been about the powers. It’s about seeing our best selves on the page working through our fears to do what’s right. We watch these overwhelming odds, these injustices, and we read imagining that like the superheroes we follow, we could follow in their footsteps.

In our hearts, we hope we are the heroes.


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