I read a lot of comic books and have since I was little. Though I was raised as a Roman Catholic, I've long felt that comic books crafted my moral compass much more than religion ever could. Frederic Wertham had it completely wrong.
There are a lot of obvious lessons one could derive from comic books and include them into a moral code, chief among them Spider-Man's axiom, "With great power comes great responsibility." But there are others in all of the comic books, and I want to focus in this piece mainly on Batman, since his comics are those that inspired this article.
What's been on my mind the most lately, since I've been following the immigration debate pretty closely, is the idea by the right wing of the conservative party is that these people who arrive in the country illegally don't deserve to be in the United States and don't deserve any of our care, attention, or resources. Now, we'll ignore the fact that by that standard they'd want Superman arrested and deported, and stick to the lessons that can be found in Batman's comics.
You see, the Batman has a strict moral code. Sure he breaks and bends the law in places, but he's a moralist. There is a very definite line he does not cross. Killing is not acceptable and every life, no matter how deranged or what country it came from, is precious. And he sticks valiantly to that code. Reading about the exploits of my favorite character as a child and seeing how strident he was in not crossing that line left quite an impact on me. I really feel like that is the basis on which I've predicated my views on the death penalty, immigration reform, and a hundred other issues.
I feel like not helping someone in need because of their country of origin is barbaric. We're supposed to be the greatest country in the world and that seems like literally the least we can do. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..." I seem to remember those words having a certain significance. And when these tired, poor, huddled masses arrive in our country, I'm more worried about helping them than dissecting the method of their arrival. (I wouldn't ask Superman to leave the country because he didn't arrive here properly.)
But I've been re-reading some recent older comics, and one passage in Detective Comics #853 (written by Neil Gaiman no less) had an impact on me that hit me right between the eyes. This comic was right after Batman's "death" at the hands of Darkseid and Gaiman was asked to write sort of a sum up of the character in a two-part story called "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" In it, heroes and villains alike spoke at Batman's funeral.
Clayface, one of the lesser known villains in Batman's rogues gallery, was speaking over the coffin and said, "He died saving the city. No, that's not true. He saved the city, he died saving me. I said, 'I'm not worth it." And he said, 'Everyone's worth it.'"
And right then and there, it hit me. It smacked me in the face.
It was an incredibly poignant moment and it solidified in my mind everything I felt about the immigration debate, the death penalty, jailing drug offenders, and a dozen different issues.
It really doesn't matter who you are; as long as you're a person, you're worth saving, worth protecting, worth welcoming with open arms.
And I hope one day conservatives can see past where someone came from, the color of their skin, what they might have done in the past, or how little they're able to work or contribute, and know that it isn't their job to judge them. It's their job to help them.
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