I’m a comic nerd. Have been all my life. Being a superhero fan, I feel lucky to have been a kid during the 70s and 80s when comics were arguably the best they’ve ever been (go on, argue with me about it). Not only were Marvel and DC producing monumental new books at that time, but both publishers delighted readers (while saving some bucks) by reprinting material from as far back as the 1930s — what’s known as the Golden Age of comics — too. In addition to comics, I’ve always liked history, Old Time Radio, and old pulp action heroes, so this was great for me.
Wildcat was a character from that Golden Age. An old-fashioned kind of vigilante, he didn’t have any true super powers. I thought he had a pretty cool costume, though. Ted Grant, his alter ego, had been a championship boxer, so he was a pretty tough guy. For whatever reason, Grant decided to put on a costume and fight crime. It was a thing some tough guys did in those days. He called himself Wildcat and wore a solid black cat suit, complete with cat mask.
That might sound a little silly to you, but if you can believe it, a similar non-powered fella had turned hero wearing, of all things, a suit that made him look like a bat, and that character’s books sold incredibly well. For 75 years.
Wildcat’s popularity never came close to Batman’s, but DC Comics did bring him into the modern age, along with the rest of the Justice Society of America, in the 1960s. He was featured not only in reprints, but also in new stories. He was even shown to have trained Batman and other crime fighters. DC had a whole multiple earth scenario that explained where the Golden Age heroes came from. If you watch The Flash, you’ve seen a little of that. And if you watch Arrow, you’ve seen Wildcat. A version of him, anyway.
For decades, Wildcat has been portrayed as kind of a lunk. Undoubtedly a hero, full of heart, but more a jock than a thinker. Not simple-minded like Johnny Thunder, a more humorous character, but not as bright as the rest of the Justice Society, being mostly scientists, doctors, and industrialists in their secret identities.
I recently lucked into a copy of The Greatest Golden Age Stories Ever Told at The Last Word which includes Wildcat’s first appearance and origin story. Written by Bill Finger, who happened to also co-create Batman and the original Green Lantern, among others, the story is classic pulp, full of tragedy and heroic determination. As superhero origins go, it’s really good. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing, but was bowled over by a revelation early in the story.
On page two, in only three panels, my perception of this character was totally changed.
So it looks like the ol’ pugilist grew up somewhat privileged, and not only went to college, but Yale of all places. To top it off, he didn’t want to be a professional boxer. HE WANTED TO BE A DOCTOR.
I know this is just a comic book story, and I’m sure it lacks some impact if you haven’t read the treatment of the character for decades, but it got me thinking. Have you ever thought you had someone pegged, then found out something about them that changed your view of them?
Most of us are probably guilty of categorizing acquaintances and coworkers in simple terms. It’s unfortunate that we make assumptions about people based on limited information. We might encounter one side of a person, or deal with them in only one kind of situation. I understand why we make the judgments we do, but it’s kind of a shame we can’t read everyone’s origin story.
You’ve probably heard some version of “everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” I do believe that’s true. In our day to day dealings, we rarely know where folks are coming from or what they’ve been through. I’d like to say it doesn’t matter, but being the social creatures we are, knowledge and understanding do affect our relationships. Even and especially our briefest and most casual.
I happened to be studying marketing recently (I don’t only read comics), and a message I encountered with repetition is that no matter what you’ve done, no matter how good you are or what you’re capable of, if people don’t know about it, you’ll not make as much of a difference as you should. That it’s up to you to “market” yourself so your accomplishments and experience don’t go unnoticed. Well, if we’re wise enough to understand that, can we be wise enough to flip it around and understand that there are folks out there doing incredible things who AREN’T good at marketing themselves? What might we be missing? If I’m smart enough to know I need to put myself out there, I hope I’m smart enough to know to look deeper at who people are, what they’ve been through, and what they’ve done.
You certainly don’t need to know everyone’s background in order to be friendly or have a good relationship. Rapport is built in the present as easily as on similar past experiences. I do hope, though, I’ll be careful to consider there’s more to the people I meet than the impressions I interpret.