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Who’s Your Ninja?

Reflections on heroes and superheroes

Mayhem at the Deale Library, I feared, on seeing the Batman logo on its window and remembering that stylized bat, projected by searchlight, was Gotham City’s cry for the superhero’s help.
    No, librarians explained. Anne Arundel and Calvert are among the Maryland libraries using the national theme Every Hero Has a Story to encourage kids to keep reading all summer long. Hence the bat logo and, hand-painted on the library door, the question Who’s your hero?
    Young readers at Calvert libraries enroll in the Hero Training Academy, reading books and making crafts that explore superpowers ranging from flying to super strength to mutation.
    We love our heroes.
    Summer’s blockbuster movies feature superheroes and super-antiheroes, from Ant Man to Mad Max and Furiosa to all the Avengers — Captain America, Black Widow, Thor, Hawkeye, Hulk and Iron Man. They follow on the heels of earlier releases real and fictional: the American Sniper to Unbroken Louis Zamperini to ­Katniss Everdeen to Birdman. Comic books and videogames aren’t big enough to hold our heroes. They need the full exposure of the big screen.
    In the realer world, Donald Trump may have shot down his hopes for the presidency by denying the heroism of Arizona senator and former presidential candidate John McCain because of the five and a half years the then Navy flyer spent in a Vietnamese prison camp.
    That’s heresy in post-9/11 America, where every soldier, all First Responders and their dogs, too, are heroes. In this startling new world, we need heroes to keep us safe.
    Where do you go to train your own hero? If you’re not a soldier, firefighter, officer of the law or nurse, reality television can be a stand-in, maybe even an inspiration.
    That’s the theme contributing writer Selene San Felice explores this week in Becoming a Ninja Warrior, her feature story about the quests — and training school — spun off from the NBC series American Ninja Warrior.
    Whether ninjas qualify as heroes, let alone superheroes — and in this office that’s debated — the guys San Felice introduces are transforming themselves much more energetically than, say, Superman. Clark Kent had only to duck into a phone booth and strip off his civilian clothes for his superpowers to emerge. What he claimed by birthright, other heroes have to suffer to achieve. Look at Hulk, for example, and Spiderman.
    Training as American Ninja Warriors in Marylander Tony Torres’ Alternative Routes gym, Sean Darling-Hammond and Chris DiGangi are grunting and shimmying for their goals.
    Which is what Torres wants. “I want them to fail, because I want them to know what failure does. Failure should push you to keep trying,” he explained.
    Synchronistically with her story, Free Will Astrologer Rob Brezsny quotes Nietzsche on what it takes to be a hero: “Simultaneously going to meet your highest suffering and your highest hope,” the philosopher wrote.
    Whether or not you’re a Virgo, that’s a good definition to keep in mind in these hero-wishful times.
    Meanwhile, you can enjoy Darling-Hammond and DiGangi’s vicarious sweat in this week’s paper and follow Darling-Hammond, if you’re so inspired, on American Ninja Warrior on August 10.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com