Last Night, a Superhero Saved My Life: Neil Gaiman!! Jodi Picoult!! Brad Meltzer!! . . . and an All-Star Roster on the Caped Crusaders That Changed Their Lives

Last Night, a Superhero Saved My Life: Neil Gaiman!! Jodi Picoult!! Brad Meltzer!! . . . and an All-Star Roster on the Caped Crusaders That Changed Their Lives

by Liesa Mignogna

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250043924
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 06/07/2016
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 1,328,381
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

By day, LIESA MIGNOGNA is VP, Editorial Director of Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon and Schuster Children's Books, where she edits novels for teens and tweens including the #1 New York Times bestselling Dork Diaries series. By night, Liesa is a passionate comics fan and lover of all things Batman. Liesa lives in New Jersey with her photographer husband and their son, whose first word was "Bat."

Read an Excerpt

Last Night, a Superhero Saved My Life

Neil Gaiman, Jodi Picoult, Brad Meltzer and an All-Star Roster on the Caped Crusaders That Changed Their Lives


By Liesa Mignogna

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2016 Liesa Mignogna
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-4226-7



CHAPTER 1

Superheroes and Being Human


ME AND BATMAN AND YOU

AUSTIN GROSSMAN


This is a song about how sometimes you find yourself living in a house where you think "I have to get out of here" but maybe you're too young to get out of there, or you don't have any money, or you don't have any means or anywhere to go, and yet you cling firmly to the idea that someday you will escape, through some means, maybe Batman will show up in his car outside or something. And like other people might laugh and say, "Man, John, Batman's not coming to save you." And you think, "Look man, between me and Batman and you, I'll take Batman."

John Darnielle


I.

I'll take Batman. Golden Age Batman or campy Silver Age or grim Batman or the aging Dark Knight or even Batman 2099. I'll take whoever chooses to answer the Bat-Signal on a given rainy night.

I'll take him for all sorts of reasons. Because he's a weird superhero. No powers, just his self-discipline and talent and personal hang-ups. Part vicious vigilante, part neurotic warrior saint. With his private cult of unrelenting mourning, he's the costumed patron of the walking wounded, of simply Not Getting Over It.

I'll take Batman because in the morning he makes such a point of getting up again as Bruce Wayne. He eases a tailored suit on over the bruises and eats his breakfast in bed and sallies forth into the world. He laughs lightly while cracked ribs twinge; makes witty, provocative conversation while counting the hours until sunset, feeling the anguish of knowing how many crimes are even then taking place. Friends wonder why he's always a little remote, why he always happens to know the phase of the moon and the likelihood of rain on a given night in Gotham. The scourge of crime plays it arrow straight; he freezes at the slightest danger of discovery, like a kid caught without a hall pass. Because he takes all of it a little too seriously, including — especially — the most absurd parts of it.

I've got questions for the man. Because really, Bruce, what's going on? Is everything okay? Why the night job, why the lifelong free-running fistfight in a Halloween suit? And, I know, I know, it's for your parents, it's for two dead people who really truly aren't coming back. It's just Batman's luck to be born into the doomful DC Universe where permadeath is the norm instead of Marvel's revolving-door afterlife, where Tom and Martha Wayne (or their good-as-new clones) would have shown up again on Tuesday next in time for cocktail hour. Sorry, Bruce. In DC's world, only Clark Kent comes back.

And while we're asking questions, we could always ask why, at my time of life, do I bank so hard on the possibility of intervention by a costumed vigilante rather than, say, a skilled accountant or psychiatrist?

And, most pressing of all, damn it: Is Batman coming to save me, or isn't he? Who's going to solve the disastrous supercrime scenario of my middle years, if not the World's Greatest Detective?


II.

If I'm calling Batman a neurotic, I don't mean to cast aspersions. Of course Batman is a mess. I'm a mess, too. Lots of us are messes. That's why we like Batman, the hero with something broken.

The thing is, not all of us have Bruce Wayne's excuse for falling off the path to middle-class normalcy. With him, it makes sense to have issues. Billionaire kid, parents gunned down on a moonlit night, who wouldn't have a few quirks? You can at least point to the problem. For the rest of us it takes a little more work.

Like plenty of Batman fans, I don't have quite such an obvious piece of melodrama to explain things. We had a nice house in a quiet safe suburb. Middle-class school, good marks, pleasant surroundings. College education, even. Parents totally not shot. So whatever went wrong in my life, well, that's a harder case to crack. The crime scene is immaculate. Witnesses never saw a thing.

Likewise, Batman's break with the regular college-bound achievement track was pretty easy to spot. In his teens, he ran away from his palatial suburban mansion on a quest to remake himself. He mastered physics, chemistry, engineering, forensic sciences. He roamed Asia and studied a dozen different martial disciplines.

If only we all had that great story, a Crime Alley that led us to our brooding midnight dysfunction. Instead, some of us get a wandering path. It looked like all systems were go, but then down the line there was a more subtle, creeping failure to launch. Wandering from job to job, relationship to relationship via a series of crappy little apartments, never decorated, boxes never unpacked. It's easy not to ask questions when you still think you're smart and successful, but you can go into your thirties to find no actual career or marriage has formed, and gradually suspect the wheels are coming right off the cart.

So what happened? Some say the perfect crime is the one that no one ever knows happened. No one sees anything wrong, not for years. All of a sudden you're in your late thirties and the bodies really start piling up and you look around to find the city of Gotham has become a very dark and terrifying place. Parents dead or alive, there are evidently lots of smaller, more ordinary ways for someone's life to end up broken.

By whose dire hand was this done? Surely no ordinary malefactor was at work here. Was this perhaps the work of the Riddler? Certainly the landscape was littered with lasting riddles. Why are things that are simple and obvious to other people — remaining in a job, for instance, or paying one's taxes correctly — mysterious or just about impossible to me? Why am I doing the same stupid thing over and over? Why are my friends asking whether I'm okay, and do I know how I sound, and do I know what I look like right now? I should probably know those answers, but then I am not exactly the World's Greatest Detective. (Or am I? Stay tuned for the shocking truth.)

It's very late in the day to be calling Commissioner Gordon for a rooftop meeting, and not in the finest weather either. But look, there's the Bat-Signal all plugged in and sitting there. So ... what if I maybe just shine that thing up at the clouds, like a movie premiere or a sale on automobiles. Just for a sec, no commitment, just in an exploratory way. To see how things go, and who shows up. What have I got to lose?


III.

My Batman obsession began in earnest when I read The Dark Knight Returns in 1986, the year it came out. It was a galvanizing moment, a purging aesthetic revelation that expanded my sense of what was possible in the world of art, as powerful as the moment I heard punk rock or put a quarter in a Defender machine or saw a Bob Fosse dance routine. I didn't have the slightest idea why I felt that way, but I did. I kept my copy through college and grad school and various forgotten intervals between, read it a couple of times a year at least.

The book finds Bruce Wayne in later life; he's been retired for ten years but the Batman thing won't leave him alone. He can't shed the memories of what happened and what he needs to do about it. He's fighting it out nightly with himself, sweating into the sheets. I'm a zombie, he says, a Flying Dutchman. A dead man, ten years dead. Battling crime was what made sense of him, and his life has no meaning without it.

It was a sentiment I understood too well, even without knowing why. It told me a story about myself that fit my feelings while having no relationship to the facts. I read The Dark Knight Returns over and over until I had extensive patches of it memorized, long after Frank Miller had turned himself into a caricatured irrelevancy. I read it in college and in my twenties and in my thirties as I shed jobs and apartments, as early promise turned into a wistful memory, then an angry regret. The conundrum of my failure to thrive in the world went from quirky to worrisome to saddening, and the rootless-slacker thing got less and less cute.

Why does Batman make so much sense to me? This is my question, and this is the basis of my hope. Because maybe he will, after all, show up to save me.

Bruce Wayne is a mess but give him this: he pulled it together. He grew up and now manages something like a borderline okay adulthood. He's managed to convince everyone he's okay, and that's no mean trick when you are not, in fact, even remotely okay.

His parents got murdered when he was just a kid and humiliatingly powerless to stop it, and that memory just does not go away, not ever.

He had a problem, and he came up with a plan. Not that he had to — he was rich enough to keep himself in therapy for a dozen lifetimes, with yachts and movie stars to fill in the intervening hours and stave off the awfulness. But, no, he took what happened to him, packaged it up, and turned it into a lifestyle.

Let's not pretend it was the cleverest thing he could have come up with: it was a very silly plan. When he came back from his years abroad, he decided to become a superhero. He put a mask on his face, I guess inspired by the movie The Mark of Zorro. But if adulthood teaches us one good sharp lesson, it's that even if an unconventional piece of clothing looks great on someone in a movie that doesn't mean you run out and buy a whole new outfit. I've owned enough fedoras to have learned that particular truth.

He wears the mask. He sits on rooftops at all hours, rides around town in a weird car. He beats the crap out of bad people basically because he's sad and angry. And at that point he'll really cut loose. He'll grab a guy's hair and shove his face into a brick wall; he'll kick a guy's knee out. If Batman catches you doing the wrong thing, you can forget about playground rules. Don't even try calling a time-out.

Take note, he's not even pretending this is going to fix it. This is the thing that makes him feel closest to whole, but that's all it's going to be, ever. This is the deal for him and he'll be doing it the rest of his life. "Get used to it," says Batman. "It's not just a phase."

And you know what? The plan works. Like the best friend who has suddenly gotten way too into remote-control helicopters, who turns out to have sunk five thousand dollars into scale-model Hueys and doesn't remotely regret it. It's getting him by, and who are we to judge?


IV.

Meanwhile the investigation grinds on, stray crumbs of evidence that stubbornly refuse to form the wholesome bread of justice!

Where were we? I moved from Boston to New York, to Boston, to Los Angeles, to Brooklyn, to San Francisco, to Southern California. I cut myself off from my family, my friends. I felt as if I were hiding a terrible secret but I didn't know what the secret was, only that it had just about finished gnawing my insides out.

In fact I bore a more than passing resemblance to our playboy millionaire. He's no stranger to secrets hidden in plain sight. You could know Bruce Wayne your whole life and never suspect that he had another side to him. If you were going to spot him, the real clue is in the eyes, alert and haunted, scanning the room, knowing that this charming party we're all enjoying could flip over into a hellscape of smilex gas and panicked society matrons; in fact in Gotham the odds are sixty-forty on a given evening. Bruce Wayne is suspiciously at home with the possibility of disaster.

Like Bruce Wayne I smiled an empty-eyed smile and raised a festive glass as the confetti rained down and the band played a jazzy tune. And all the while, far below the glamorous heights of Gotham's financial district, a chill autumn breeze carried eerie laughter through the deserted streets. An alarm bell rang and rang past emptied display cases. Something had been taken and it wasn't being given back. The weed of crime bears bitter fruit! And someone awfully sick was finding this awfully funny.

In fact it got harder and harder to care, or take any of it seriously. Every relationship that happened because I didn't imagine a better offer coming, and besides, they wanted it so much, right? Every freelance job where I didn't ask for a proper rate, because what did it matter? The ones where I didn't bother to collect payment. And every time I quit writing because, really, what are the odds that I turn out to be one of the lucky ones?

There was nothing, no work or friendship I could turn my hand to that didn't sooner or later start to feel like a sour joke. Who could be behind my unfortunate demise? Who but the Clown Prince of Crime himself?


V.

And who else could save me but Batman? As a former Ph.D. student in English literature, I know as well as you do what a silly suggestion that is. Why not read a story with real people and real human feelings, or whatever is in all those Henry James novels that's meant to be so important?

I've read my Henry James and George Eliot, those masterful literary instructors in the slow task of maturation, adjustment of expectations, accommodation to realities.

But that's exactly the kind of lesson I was already way too good at. Yielding to disappointment was a topic I had intimate familiarity with. And Henry James wasn't coming to save me anytime soon — it's just not his style. So who would? Batman, that's who.

In my twenties I began a master's degree in performance studies at NYU, an honor with an almost perfect lack of applicability to any of my real-world problems. I was living on almost nothing. I was reading almost nothing except critical theory and Batman. I didn't know what I was doing there.

I started a small, secret ritual. Each night around ten in the evening I'd head over to the School for the Arts, flash my ID to get in, and wait as gradually the black box rehearsal spaces emptied out and the undergrad theater majors went back to their dorms. I'd try until I found one unlocked and unoccupied. I'd switch on the stage lights and sit up there and write in a spiral notebook, then read the result aloud to the ranks of empty seats.

I don't know why I did it that way, but I had to hear my voice echoing off the walls of a room, and until then it didn't feel real. Until then, it felt like nothing. But reading it out at the center of an empty room ... then it felt halfway like a crime, halfway like a miserable, joyous duty to a demon inside me I couldn't explain. It felt ridiculous and it felt like anger.

No one was trying to kill me at that point and if I tried I could probably have kept from starving to death, so don't ask me why the whole enterprise was running itself into the ground. Also the writing sucked, it would go on sucking for the next ten years, it's a published novel now and right this minute it may be out there sucking. It was, moreover, ridiculous — as anyone who has seen my prose fiction can confirm. Nevertheless it felt very much like a struggle to save my own life, and so far it has. I went out at night and did the only thing that made sense, the scariest, most ridiculous, most courageous thing I could summon myself to do. So was this the work of the elusive Batman, rumored scourge of the underworld? This humble reporter has no other explanation to give. Bruce Wayne's story was the closest thing I could find to a story about caring what happened to me.

I wrote the first pages of my first novel when I was twenty-six. It took until my thirties that I picked it up and wrote it, over a long six years, in between classes and Saturday nights in donut shops, hidden away from my younger classmates in a doctoral program I wasn't going to finish. I was published at thirty-seven and the book did modestly well.

Okay. So I'm not much like Batman. Then again, neither is Bruce Wayne. And you've never seen me and Batman in the same place either.


VI.

So is Batman coming or not? What would that even look like? I'm not sure we get an answer here, or even a happy ending. After all, Bruce Wayne doesn't get one and Batman certainly doesn't. The World's Greatest Detective will never get over letting his parents down, no more than I will. And in the years that followed, parts of my behavior got worse, not better.

But at least I know something about fighting crime. I know the opposite of depression isn't happiness, it's vitality and truth and the snap of bone in a thug's elbow as you pull a joint lock home. My second book did not sell as well as the first. My third may be the best so far. At least I know a story about how someone failed the people he loved, felt hollow and useless, and then did something about it.

This essay should logically end in my own secret, the place where my own thoughts and energy and life go when I'm not walking around pretending to be who I am, my own personal Crime Alley. What's the story there? Dead parents? Lost ambitions? Is it simply the poisoned atmosphere on this blighted alien planet I've been stranded on? I don't know. I don't have a good excuse for not being a normal person with decent, respectable imperatives. You'll have to wait for Secret Origins of Fortysomething Writers 2.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Last Night, a Superhero Saved My Life by Liesa Mignogna. Copyright © 2016 Liesa Mignogna. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction

SUPERHEROES AND BEING HUMAN

Me and Batman and You by Austin Grossman

On the Hulk: You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry by Delilah S. Dawson

Dented Hearts: A Story of Iron Man by Anthony Breznican

The Weight of Four-Color Justice by Christopher Golden

SUPERHEROES AND LOVE

Daredevil, Elektra, and the Ninja who Stole my Virginity by Jamie Ford

Every thing I Know About Love, I Learned from Gambit and Rogue by Karina Cooper

Spider-Manhattan by Scott Westerfeld

How I Spent My Summer Vacation with the Judas Contract by Brad Meltzer

SUPERHEROES AND WRITING

How Batman Saved My Life by Joe R. Lansdale

All the World Is Waiting for You by Carrie Vaughn

The Devil Inside: How Matt Wagner’s Grendel Saved My Life by Brendan Deneen

You Never Forget Your First Time by Neil Gaiman

SUPERHEROES AND GENDER

We Are Not Amazons by Leigh Bardugo

Weapon X by Ron Currie, Jr.

Wonder Woman by Jodi Picoult

SUPERHEROES AND CHILDHOOD

God of Thunder by Kevin Seccia

Underdog and Me by Martin Kihn

Superman: One Rad Dude by Jim Di Bartolo

Some Interstitial Thoughts on the In-Betweener by Charles Yu

SUPERHEROES AND TRAUMA

Becoming Bethany: A Life in Seven Deaths by Alethea Kontis

Swashbuckle My Heart: An Ode to Nightcrawler by Jenn Reese

The Hero I Needed by Liesa Mignogna

Acknowledgments

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