What I Didn’t Know About Wildcat’s Origin Story

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.

Ted Grant not only went to college, he went Ivy League.

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.

 

 

Some Things I Don’t Know About Social Oppression, and More I Didn’t Know About Self-Oppression

“This is the ultimate misery: living a life that is not our own.” – Brendon Burchard

Just last night I was thinking to myself about how ever since I was a very young person I’ve given in and allowed other people — often cruel, small-minded people — to guide my behavior and my life. Not to blame them for any dissatisfaction with the way my life has turned out, because the choice to succumb and hide my true self has always been mine.  Then this morning I coincidentally came across an insightful and powerful section in Brendon Burchard’s Motivation Manifesto on social oppression that completely described my dilemma.

For all the recognition I’ve received for being different, for non-conformity, for thinking outside the box, I have, for my entire life, nearly completely been someone designed by those around me.

This is something I have known and acknowledged to myself all along. I was most aware of this surrender and masking of my true self during grade school. Examining my childhood, though, I suspect it began even before then, at home, in effort to best please and most easily pacify my parents, especially dad, and other adults around me.

I remember never fitting in with other kids at school. An especially strong memory of being teased by a group of (dumb, cruel) boys on a school field trip sticks out to me as a turning point where I accepted one of the worst lessons I ever could have and consciously decided to hide my real self and stifle my intellect. To appease those kids, who I didn’t even know and whose opinions shouldn’t have had any weight on my behavior, I chose to stop expressing who I really was.

That’s sad. What’s sadder is I continued living that way, actively concealing my real thoughts and hiding my true potential throughout the rest of my school years, and beyond.

Sadder than that, even: I still didn’t fit in.

The real tragedy, though, the worst, most horrendous and terrible effect of letting other people shape my behavior and outward identity, was not the accumulation of poor decisions and record of underachievement. It was the inner conflict I suffered. The person I knew I was meant to be fought to rise up, to burst out into the light of day, stayed in constant battle with self doubt, fears of rejection, and, over time, the conditioning of being held dormant.

That conflict and denial of self created all kinds of problems. Depression, naturally. Anger. During periods of my life it manifested in selfishness and hedonism. And a near constant search for meaning and happiness that I could never quite reach.

I fooled myself for a very long time that keeping my real self submerged was actually a good thing, that it was an exercise in discipline. I believed I was a master of self control, even though my behavior and choices often proved otherwise. In reality, I was a prisoner of fear and a victim of ease and comfort.

Another level of self-deception disguised itself as a bizarre strategy for performance at school and work. I’d foolishly convinced myself to purposefully downplay my abilities and let people underestimate me, so that in a dramatic move I could surprise them later with results beyond their expectations. A twist on the under promise, over deliver rule. The problem was, by underachieving, I often left my actions at that lower level of expectation and failed to spring the big reveal. So that led to a cycle of frustration and added to my dissatisfaction and disappointment with myself.

Well, it ain’t happening any more.

The people in my life deserve better. I deserve better. I can’t be the best person I can be, to help others and contribute fully, if I’m in a constant state of hiding and using up all my energy struggling between my real self and who I think people want me to pretend to be.

Not that it will be easy. A lifetime of suppression and decades of malignant habits will be difficult to overcome. It’s not like throwing open a cage door and running out free. But the door is at least open. I expect I’ll need to work just as hard to push my actual self out front as I did to hold it back. Fortunately, the psychic muscles I’ll need for that are strong after years of flexing.

If you’re someone around me who (believes they) know me, I ask for your patience and understanding while I work on this. I can use your help and encouragement too. You can definitely count on the same from me.

It’s a damn shame it’s taken me this late in life to make this move. I believe a lot of people have similar difficulties with social oppression. I sure hope they find their way free earlier than I did.

Although I came to my own conclusions about my issue, the section in Brendon Burchard’s Motivation Manifesto on social oppressions so clearly expressed the same struggle, it opened my eyes wider. So much of what he identified on only three pages resonated with my experience. I completely recommend his books and teachings for everyone, but if you are suffering from trying to appease those around you at the expense of your own spirit, I believe he offers some special guidance. There’s been an offer recently to get a free copy of The Motivation Manifesto and an accompanying online study. If it’s still available, by all means take advantage of it.