Do you remember your first hero? Any kind of hero. It could have been a hero from a movie or a book or a television show, even a hero from real life.
As a child of the 1970s, one might think Luke Skywalker was my first hero, but I would turn eight years old a month after the original Star Wars was released in theaters, and by then I already had plenty of heroes.
Re-runs of the original Star Trek TV show from the 1960s were still airing, and I watched every one of them. Of the crew of the Enterprise, Captain James T. Kirk seemed the most heroic of the figures presented to us viewers, or at least he stood in the most traditional of the heroic modes.
Then there was the Six Million Dollar Man, starring actor Lee Majors from 1973 to 1978 on television. For those not familiar with the series, Majors played U.S. astronaut Steve Austin who was seriously injured in an accident. Not only did Steve survive his accident, but the government decided, “We can rebuild him. We have the technology.” And they did. Steve got some bionic legs and an arm and an eye. He fought crime. And Bigfoot. It was awesome.
Some might not consider Godzilla a hero, but by the time of my childhood in the ’70s, Godzilla was mainly a good guy, so he was a hero of sorts to many of us. For better or worse, my first Godzilla movie was Godzilla vs. Megalon, a film sometimes not remembered fondly by Godzilla fans. Either way, I was maybe five years old when my dad drug me into an old downtown theater to witness the spectacle of this movie, and again, I have to say it was awesome.
Then there were the Saturday morning cartoons and shows. Back then we didn’t really think of the likes of Fred Flintstone or Scooby-Doo as heroes, but we had other options which definitely fit the bill. At least where I grew up, early on Saturdays before the cartoons kicked in, there were re-runs of old black and white serials, often including the adventures of Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers (both series starring the great Olympic gold medalist Buster Crabbe). There were also Western serials, for Westerns were still a big thing during my youngest days, usually starring Roy Rogers or Gene Autry. The good guys wore white, the bad guys wore black, and the ray guns and six-shooters blazed away with near-constant action. And the hero always got the girl while saving the day. A little boy couldn’t ask for more at the time.
But movies and television weren’t my only source of heroes at the time. I suppose my first literary heroes, outside of comic books, would have been Bilbo Baggins or perhaps Black Beauty, the horse from the novel of the same name. However, I was not yet much of a reader of prose fiction, at least not until the later 1970s. It would not be until the early 1980s or thereabouts before I would discover the likes of Conan the Cimmerian, Elric of Melnibone, Fafhrd and the Mouser, etc.
I read lots of comic books, though. Lots and lots and lots of comic books. Fantastic Four, Captain America, Batman, Superman, they were my heroes. The Incredible Hulk, Doctor Strange, the Flash, there were more, many more. The list could go on.
Yet it was probably Spider-Man who stood out to me the most in my youngest years. Spider-Man was young and fun. He always had a quick quip for a foe while swinging around on his lines. And he always won the day. Okay, maybe it took an issue or three, but usually he won the day, and this was way before comic books regularly bled over into each other … no 10-part series and all that back then.
As you can tell, I’ve spent some time of late thinking about my earliest heroes, and I guess that goes along with me being a board member of the Rogue Blades Foundation, a non-profit publisher focusing on all things heroic.
When I really push my memory, when I press it back as far as I can, I have to think that Spider-Man was the first heroic figure introduced to me, but not the Spider-Man of the comic books.
Starting in 1971, an educational television program on the PBS channel appeared called The Electric Company, and most weeks Spider-Man showed up in a short skit, usually fighting crime while also teaching some kind of lesson. I probably would have been three or four years old when I first saw Spider-Man on The Electric Company, and I’m thinking that’s probably what got me to read comic books at the time. But maybe not. Maybe it was the other way around. Either way, as best as my memory serves, Spidey was my first hero.
Except for my dad.
Spidey might have been my first fictional hero, but my father was my first real-life hero. I suppose that’s the case for a lot of children.
Funny, I dedicated my novel More Than Kin to my dad, and he did have an opportunity to read it before he passed. His viewpoint seemed to be that the book was generally good, but that I had somewhat romanticized notions about the main character, who was loosely based upon my father. I can’t disagree with my dad on those thoughts, but I’d hope many a young man has had romanticized notions about his parents. Facing the truth and reality about our parents is all well and good, often necessary and sometimes even cleansing, but it also might not hurt if we held onto some childlike wonder that allowed us to see a better world even when it didn’t exist exactly the way we remember it. For if we can see a better world, if we can imagine it, perhaps we can strive towards making it real.
Go forward. Remember your heroes. Love them. Cherish them. Be them. Make the world better.
And don’t forget, in a couple of weeks, happy Father’s Day.
Ty Johnston is vice president of the Rogue Blades Foundation, a non-profit organization focused upon bringing heroic literature to all readers. A former newspaper editor, he is the author of several fantasy trilogies and individual novels.