When I went to see the new Spiderman movie, I was struck, once again, not only by the fact that superheros, as a rule, tend to be some of the morosest people on the planet (maybe Joan Baez is a superhero in disguise), but also by the fact that, just like the heros in Greek tragedy, they all seem to have some fatal flaw. With Superman it is, of course, kryptonite; with Batman it’s having mood swings rivaling a post-partum Britney’s; and with Aquaman it’s–let’s face it–the whole “aqua” thing. (Seriously: how formidable can a guy be if he has to lure you out into the water to defeat you? What’s he going to do about some guy who’s building a bomb in Kansas–send him an anonymous all-expenses paid trip to the Caribbean?). And then of course there’s our hero du jour: Spiderman. Spidey is perhaps the superhero with the most debilitating weakness of all: a really, really whiny girlfriend. (In fact, MJ is such a fatal fatal flaw that I’m surprised Peter Parker isn’t a sub-hero instead. And yes: this was true even before Kirsten Dunst brought her own special brand of whining to the role. For proof, see the “But I don’t want to have spider babies!” episode that ran in the newspapers years ago.)
Anyway, it was the realization that all superheros have their Achilles’ heels that got me to thinking about something that had happened to Clyde that morning at the breakfast table–something that, when viewed through the lenses of my new superhero-awareness glasses, suddenly took on a whole new meaning. What had before appeared to be just another instance of Clyde being a picky eater now seemed likely to have been the dawning awareness of his own superhuman abilities. Maybe, in fact, what he had been dealing with was his own personal kryptonite–the Cheerio.
What happened was this: in an effort to cut down on the towering pile of dishes that seem to erupt, Vesuvius-like, from the bowels of our sink every morning, I had re-used my own cereal bowl for Clyde’s bowl of Batman cereal. (Or maybe it was Superman Returns cereal. Or Hulk. Or Fantastic Four–I think a savvy marketing guy could just slap a picture of the latest movie hero on a box of three-year-old All Bran and it would fly off of the shelves). Unbeknownst to me, however, in my haste to obey rule #2 of the recycling mantra (reuse),I had inadvertently left a single Cheerio behind. What this meant was that just as Clyde started to take his first bite of delicious Sugar-O’s, he was treated instead to a much less welcome sight: a Cheerio. Yes, there it was, staring up at him malevolently from the top of the bowl like the baleful eye of some oaty fiend. Only by quick thinking on Clyde’s part (ferociously scrubbing his tongue with a nearby paper towel) was he was able to escape the deleterious effects of Cheerio poisoning, but it was obvious to all that it had been a near thing.
Like I said, at the time I saw it as just another instance of picky eating, but now–with my eyes opened to the ways of superheros by the new Spiderman movie–I can see that maybe it was actually a case of a troubled hero facing his one true weakness. Or rather, one of his one true weaknesses: there’s also the little problem with socks and underwear (can’t wear them), as well as toothbrushes, bananas, pickles, and sleeping in his own bed. Now that I think about it, it does seem like rather a lot of Achilles’ heels for one superhero–more like Achilles’ heel, knee, elbow, and wiggly thing at the back of your throat.
Still, it’s better than having to come home every day to Mary Jane.