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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

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

Edited by Liesa Mignogna

Thomas Dunne Books



This is not a book about superheroes.

It’s a book about the relationship between humans and superheroes—the three-dimensional, and sometimes life-sustaining dynamic between us and the iconic characters who started out on the pages of four-color comic books.

The idea for this anthology came about because of a question I’m asked all the time:

Why Batman?

I hear it from coworkers when they step into my office. First they notice the Batman notepads and pens on my desk. Then the miniature Batman figurine resting on top of my computer or the Batman mouse pad next to it. Once they turn around, that’s when their eyebrows really shoot up—I have an entire bookshelf filled with Batman books, a Batman clock, a signed production still from the Batman animated series, and much more.

I hear it whenever someone comes over to my house and sees the guest bedroom, which doubles as the Batman room, housing my massive collection of comics, original framed art, statues, and toys. And if they stay over, they sleep underneath Batman bedding, then wake up to coffee served in a Batman mug.

I definitely heard it around the time of my wedding, when I told people that the reception would be held at a comics museum and the wedding cake would be a three-foot-long Batmobile with Just Married on the bumper and Batman and Catwoman stargazing on the front hood (no, I did not wear a cowl for the ceremony).

But what people really want to know isn’t just why Batman’s my favorite superhero—it’s why I even have a favorite superhero. Why out of the entire spectrum of literature and film and culture, it’s a comic book character who’s become so central. I’m a reader by passion and by trade, having devoured hundreds and hundreds of books ever since preschool, eventually becoming an editor of children’s and teen fiction. I’ve got plenty of stories to choose from, but it’s Batman whose story has proven so inspiring, and so enduring.

As I shared with people why I needed a hero, and why Batman was the hero I needed, others would tell me about their own reasons for loving the Caped Crusader. And if it wasn’t Batman whose mythology had made a personal impact, it was Daredevil or Spider-Man or Captain America. The connections weren’t always as dramatic as my own. People shared stories of childhood escapades with capes and rooftops. They told me that geeking out over superhero comics is what bonded them to their best friends and what helped them laugh their way through their adolescence. An artist friend of mine (who contributed an essay to this book) showed me his Superman tattoo and explained that he’d always loved the idea of a guy like Superman—someone with near-limitless abilities—using those powers to help perfectly ordinary people, even trying to fit in with those ordinary people under the guise of the ever-awkward Clark Kent. Maybe being a regular guy is cooler than we thought.…

The more people opened up to me, the more I realized that I was far from the only adult with a favorite superhero, and that we all had unique and compelling reasons as to why those superheroes had come to fill that space in our lives. I’m an editor, so I’m always looking for a good story, and suddenly it was clear—

There’s a story here.

Our cultural love affair with the superhero genre is no secret. Box office blockbuster lists are consistently led by superhero films like the Avengers and Iron Man franchises, not to mention the runaway success of the Dark Knight trilogy. During his first presidential campaign, Barack Obama revealed that he was a comic book collector and that Spider-Man was his favorite superhero. Why Spider-Man? Because of Peter Parker’s “inner turmoil.”

Beneath the box office successes, the fanboy politicians, even the popular “spot the Superman reference in every episode of Seinfeld” game, are the human connections we form with these characters and the question:

Why superheroes?

As I reached out to authors and they leaped (tall buildings) at the chance to write about their favorite superheroes, a few themes emerged.

For some writers, there was a common ground that tied back to the notion of values, morality, a code. Understanding the characters’ strengths and their flaws in comparison to and contrasted with our own as humans was deeply inspiring. The form that inspiration took was sometimes daunting, sometimes heartening, sometimes comforting—but always helping to offer a context in which the authors could better understand both super and human limitations, and learn how to accept and embrace them.

Two authors shared stories about how they were influenced by superhero couples, and another talked about finding his first love in a comic book. In the romantic entanglements of the all-powerful, these authors found insight about their own taste, a bittersweet sense of familiarity, and even a tenuous reason to believe that love could actually save the day. Another author found love not for a person but for a city that would one day become his home.

It was also interesting that a few contributors could point specifically to superheroes as the reason they even became writers in the first place.

With all the focus on their larger-than-life abilities and (typically) perfect bodies, it makes sense that several writers focused on how superheroes relate to questions of gender identity. I was hoping to include as diverse a cast of superheroes as possible in the collection, but there were two whose names kept coming up. One of these was Wonder Woman. Three of the eight female contributors wrote about the Amazon princess, which is really its own kind of statement. She’s one of the (sadly) few prominent woman superheroes, and many women today can trace their evolving sense of sexual identity back to Wonder Woman’s strength but also to her bizarrely revealing outfit, as one author here does with unflinching honesty.

So who was the second repeat superhero? I swear I didn’t rig it, but, yes, of course, it was Batman—as an inspiration, as a mirror, as a lifeline. Years ago, he appeared when I needed a hero—when I’d suffered through a series of traumatic experiences and felt completely alone and scared. His story saved my story.

So why superheroes?

Because maybe they really do show up whenever you need them.

Even in real life.

Copyright © 2016 by Liesa Mignogna