Brian Arsenault Takes On: Strong

Beware the Illusion, Folks

 By Brian Arsenault

I was a longtime fan of comic books from childhood to adulthood — at least chronologically — but not on the big screen.  Comic book superheroes used to inhabit a world defined by mostly squares inside rectangles of wondrous illustration and color and barely literate dialogue.  In short, their own world that became the reader’s for brief periods of time.

SIn movies, the superheroes move into our world — at least the make believe movie one. When it’s up on the big screen, who cares what a guy in a suit of armor can do to mere mortals?  And even more ridiculous in the flesh is a moralistic jerk wearing a big S, tights and a cape around New York.  Well, maybe in the West Village.

What I really love is hearing people arguing about how good an actor one of these guys is. Strong performance is the usual critic’s phrase.

To wrongly quote the Smothers Brothers: If you get an outfit you can be a hero too.

 And Then There Are Guns

Now I know guns are useful. For hunting. For fun — blasting away at tin cans in a gravel pit can be very entertaining, I’m told.  Even, I suppose, for self defense.  As long as you don’t blow away your girlfriend through the bathroom door or shoot your son getting home late.

My problem is equating the strength of liberty with the power of your firearm.  Liberty ought to consist of respect for one another’s freedoms, not the threat of putting a 20-shot clip into someone.

Yeah, yeah, the right to bear arms and all that.  Feel free to keep your musket at the door for when the Brits next come down the road.

Real Strength Surprises

So I’ve been thinking a lot about strength lately. What is it?  Who has it?  What is it really?

I watch those guys on those insane exercise infomercials and know that most of the world thinks they are just beastly Atlas-like. But you know what, none of them would last 15 minutes  in the cold, deep, dark North Atlantic even in late May.

Lik Hussey Sound, where – in World War II — the North Atlantic Fleet waited to dodge U-Boats to Europe.  So deep that big destroyers sat there comfortably.  But no comfort for humans.  You’d die of hypothermia before you could drown.

Yet I sat and watched these little tiny ducks riding the swells. Little guys so small you could crush them in your hand (if you’re a really mean s o b). Yet they don’t give a damn for wind and wave. They follow their parents looking for succulent bits near the shore.

Some won’t make it. They’ll be taken by birds of prey or sea creatures.  But the Atlantic itself will seldom defeat them.  They float.  They have the strength.

Stephen King’s Joyland

Another strong little “duck” is the dying 10-year old at the center of Joyland, Stephen King’s newest. A paperback with a great pulp crime novel cover. The kid’s strength is the strength of courage in the face of the inevitable.

I swear we should be putting up statues to King here in Maine. Never mind that he’s the best selling author in the world.  It’s that he’s moved so far beyond the horror genre — think The Green Mile and Hearts in Atlantis — to write about all that’s us: courage, falsity, decency, meanness, love unrequited, hatred simmering then exploding.  In other words, the human condition, the subject of all great novelists.

Sometimes I think King’s still throwing in the supernatural stuff part way through just to let us know it’s him.

The narrator in Joyland, despondent over the loss of his college love — talk about universality — listens to The Doors in the dark.  Now that’s scary.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.

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