Late in the evening, almost thirty years ago, a friend confided that he envied me. “You have no idea how lucky you are to have a child you know will turn out to be a person you like as an adult.” I am luckier than he could have known; I have three children, all now adults, who are just about my favorite people on the planet. Each has particular gifts, and each has a distinctive personality; all three of them have a delicious sense of humor, and each is capable of reducing me to panting laughter on a regular basis.
All three have displayed a thoroughly admirable interest in subjects of great import, by which I mean comics and superheroes. Again, their tastes in heroes differ slightly, but each is more than capable of describing the qualities necessary to heroism on a grand scale.
My eldest at about age ten was trapped in a car with me on a long trip; we had listened to every cassette, counted every out-of-state license plate, essentially run out of diversions, while the road before us spooled out hour after hour. In a moment if inspired invention, he grabbed his notebook and began the process of inventing a superhero whose mutated abilities sprang from the condition found in his or her home state (or adopted state, if not mutated but simply alien).
I can’t find that notebook, and my memory is imperfect. I am certain that Wisconsin was home to Beer Man, a hero whose super power allowed him to spray beer at high pressure from various orifices as needed. Apparently, he also had the ability somehow create beer as well, as he was not tethered to a vat or keg of any kind. Spray from his pores gave him the sleek mobility of a hydrofoil, able to glide at speed, even when scaling the highest tower.
Without the document as guide, the rest of the line-up is pure conjecture. It is possible that the state of Maine produced The Lobster, a red-faced hero who used her mighty claws in the fight against overfishing on the Atlantic coast. It’s equally possible that Jersey Boy tapped the toxic fumes hanging over Newark, Union City, and Camden, essentially becoming a human flamethrower. I can’t be sure. Or, that may actually have happened.
Perhaps unfairly, we reduce regions to tag lines, states to fruits and vegetables. Is Idaho, one of the Northwest’s most picturesque winter wonderlands simply about potatoes? Surely not, and yet we present The Spud, gender unknown, who uses its thousand eyes to keep track of malefactors from Wyoming to Washington. The disgraced former hero from Idaho, Famous Potato, now sadly operates out of her home in the Hollywood Hills, attending red carpet events where, over-indulging, she routinely gets fried.
Some states are more dangerous to encapsulate than others. Missouri, for example, the Show Me State, would be poorly served by guardians such as The Voyeur or The Flasher. The origin of the nickname is in an address given by Willard Duncan Vandiver, a congressman who at the end of the Nineteenth Century explained the character of the state in inspired oratory.
“I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.”
I know, Missouri doesn’t raise Democrats as it used to, but cockleburs? You betcha! The cocklebur has three notable characteristics, any one of which would propel a character into the superhero hall of expedience. Cockleburs produce small football shaped spines which grab the passerby like an octopus with fangs. That power alone would be almost enough, but wait … there’s more. Generally unpleasant when fully grown, the cocklebur is actually much more dangerous as a seedling. Not only is this hell-weed capable of stabbing, it is also highly toxic, poisoning countless grazing animals each year, and, in a final bow to youth, it tastes delicious when at its most toxic. Thus, Spiny Cocklebur would be a youngster, covered with spines and bursting with toxins.
Several states have attached themselves to birds, bees, and mammals. Louisiana is the Pelican State, Utah the Beehive State, and Michigan the Wolverine State. Too easy! It’s a challenge to slap Oregon’s mascot around until The Beaver turns feisty enough to sink its buckteeth into crime. And then, take Iowa, the Hawkeye State; I’m pretty sure it is the only state characterized by a body part, although Alabama claims to be the Heart of Dixie.
Some states have gone way out of their way to squelsh remarkable heroism. South Carolina is now the Palmetto State; we might have had a better chance to come up with something had they stuck with the Iodine State, the Rice State, or the Swamp State. Imagine the sting that Iodine Lass could land on the open wounds of her nefarious foes. Fear The Rice Man pounding his adversaries with useless carbs! Swamp Thing has a franchise of its own, but imagine Swampy, a blobish entity of indeterminate size and shape, able to take the form of a villain’s most disturbing nightmare, travelling on globbish stumps, holding within its jiggling form all the swamp creatures caught up in Swampy’s sudden ascent from its bed, a filth filled Aquaman, calling the denizens of the swamp to do his bidding.
In the name of all that is proud and fine in your home state, rise to this challenge! Give honor to the heroes ready to pick up the burden of guarding your borders. Come on, Ohio, let’s see what Buckeye, a giant shrub, can do. What about it, South Dakota? You’ve got Four Presidents made of stone hanging on the side of a mountain; kick those bad boys into gear! Little Rhody. What are you, Chicken? OK, Oklahoma, Can Sooner make time shift? Lone Star, not simply an alien, but a luminescent ball of fire. Imagine the sticking power of North Carolina’s Tar Heely, backing enemies down, heel by heel. New Mexico, Land of Enchantment? OK. let’s see what spells Mistress Enchantment can spin when aroused.
It’s on! Operators are standing by to take your call.