Street Tech cofounder Peter Sugarman’s wife, Linda, died of cancer one year ago today. Our condolences to him and to all who knew and loved Linda. Peter sent me this little piece via email and I thought it might resonate with others here who know the power of panel lines, word balloons and india ink.
The answer I give, if asked my political persuasion, is “Media American.” I’m all about the story, what it tells, how it’s told. I make mention of the Media Gods, because I actually believe that my Higher Power talks to me through the mass media: movies, TV, country music, and comic books.
Back in 2004, there was this one particular high-tone comic book called Identity Crisis. They brought in a novelist to write the thing. It dealt with some pretty mainline DC superheroes: Green Arrow, Flash, Atom. The Elongated Man (a.k.a. Ralph Dibney) was central to the tale, as he felt most keenly the cost and loss that drove the story. His darling wife, Sue, was murdered.
For those of us who read them, comic books are real. This was all that and more: the shock of her death, the crushing loss to her husband Ralph, the abrupt emptiness of his life. At the funeral, he was so broken down, he was not able to hold onto the cohesion of his face. His power, after all, is his ability to be pliable. Literally holding himself together was all that he could manage.
Still, Ralph is a hero. Not only that, a detective. He throws himself into the pursuit of the killer. But he is also a man bereft, stunned by grief. He’s not sure how to live, how to relate to the woman who chose him above all others, who shared his life, who is now gone and not coming back. Green Arrow, who had himself died and come back (something not all that uncommon in this particular universe), gives him counsel. “Talk to her. Listen to me — I know. Talk to her, Ralph. She can hear every word.”
The killer, unsuspected and one of their own, is found out. More cost, more loss. The hard choices, and the consequences of choices made, play out. The story comes to a close in the bedroom of Ralph Dibney, Adventurer, Detective, Widower. Ralph’s always been a bit of a joker, has a pretty good sense of humor. He’s telling (his dead wife) Sue a joke, a bad joke, but well told. He does not accept her silent protest, that she’s heard this one before. “How do I know? ‘Cause I’m your husband, that’s…” He pauses, listens, understands that she has to go, tells her not to worry. They’ll speak later. He tells her he’ll talk to her tomorrow. He tells her goodnight and elongates his arm to click off the lamp over on her bedside table. The next panel is black, the bedroom dark. There is a final word balloon, one that has no “tail,” so we’re not sure who said it. “I love you, too.” Is it Sue (gone on) or Ralph (left behind)?
I can tell you this. It does matter. It is true any way you look at it. It is true, and comforting, and sad, and it is why we tell stories. And THAT is why I am a Media American.