Monday, October 4, 2004

Man Without Fear

Two birthdays ago, when we all gathered around a table heaped with plates of steaming Indian food, my friend Dave handed me a graphic novel entitled Born Again, a highlight, he said, in the Daredevil story. I was going through a Spider-Man Renaissance at the time; the movie had come out and I was just starting to get into comics again. Dave, a comic book fan from way back, had given me some Spidey stuff ... but he thought that Born Again would particularly intrigue me. And, I thought, it might. I'd heard the movie was coming out, and if I was gonna start getting into comics, why not? I shrugged and said I'd give it a try.

Later that summer, Shawn, Tracey and I went on a road trip to Ohio to go to Cedar Point (conning Tracey to go only because we were going to hit Canada on the way back ... making this the first time we got Tracey to go to an amusement park due to a Canadian connection.) On the way back from Cedar Point, I crouched in the back seat with a tiny flashlight, wanting to read something but not knowing what. The first thing my hands came in contact with in my backpack was Born Again. I shrugged. Better than nothing.

At once, I was entranced. Frank Miller's writing, David Mazuchelli's art: it was all so dark. So enthralling. So ... so perfect.

When I got back home, I plumbed the comic book store for everything Daredevil. Kevin Smith, director of Dogma and hottie extraordinaire, had written what was considered a reboot. Bought it. Read it. Loved it. And as it turned out, the guy who wrote my favorite comic book (Ultimate Spider-Man), Brian Michael Bendis, actually was the current writer on Daredevil, as well. Carefully, I went back through his whole backstock, picking up graphic novels one a week and falling under the thrall of this entirely new brand of storytelling: the superhero noir. (And no, it's not so new. Batman's been doing it for years, and lots of Golden Age heroes were big on gangsters and heroics, as well.) What entranced me the most, though, was Matt Murdock, aka Daredevil, the Man Without Fear.

That subtitle: The Man Without Fear; it might have started off as descriptive, but it's become ironic, in a way. Since Born Again, since Kingpin stated that a man without hope is a man without fear ... Matt's been on this personal journey of discovery, of hope. I might enjoy Spider-Man more, but it's Matt Murdock I identify with. Conflicted, religious, obsessed with his past, bordering on multiple personality disorder and suffering a breakdown everyone else but him is aware of. All through this, he searches for the best in himself as well as the world. He is damaged purity, the best kind of hero to root for. The only kind of hero to be.

When it came down to deciding on my third tattoo, the obvious choice would be something Spider-Man related. Look around my house. Spidey posters. Spidey figures. Spidey everything. But it would never do to be obvious. The obvious Stephen King tattoo would be something from It, my favorite novel. The Stand is in the top ten, but somewhere closer to the bottom. However, that icon from the front cover: good vs. evil. I mean, that's me. That's my inner conflict, every day, all the time. The internal struggle of good versus evil is so constant, so eternal, that the pictogram from The Stand only made sense. Same with Daredevil. Sure, Spidey's my hero; sure, I want to be Spider-Man in the worst possible way. But in a lot of ways, I am Daredevil. The Man Without Fear? Hardly. But a man who faces the fear and does it anyway. The only kind of man to be.

Thom came with me to Chameleon. We sat in the waiting room, the high dentist-drill whine of inking jets crowding the air. The speakers above played Manfred Mann's "Blinded By the Light," a song written by Bruce Springsteen. I took this as a good sign. When you're me, omens - both good and bad - are everywhere. The good quotient kicked up a notch when "Who Made Who" - the AC/DC anthem from Stephen King's Maximum Overdrive - followed "Blinded." The fear of anticipated pain was dissipating. The excitement was building. And then I was up.

You always forget how much it hurts. Bob, my friendly and talkative biker-type tattoo artist, laughed when I said I should be used to this by now. "Man, you never get used to it," he said. "You just kinda forget."

That is, until the outline begins. The lower part of the bottom D didn't hurt so much. Bob kept me distracted by talking
comics. As his needle moved up, the pain quotient did, too. Now it was a maddening itch. Now it was a bee sting. Now it was ... well, a needle digging tiny cuts in my flesh. The closer he got to the top of my shoulder, the more it hurt; pain seared through me like a virus. Yet still, somehow, I maintained cool. As he began to recopy the outline, I asked him if he was disappointed that tattooing had gone mainstream. He shook his head after awhile and said, "You know, man. It's not an underground thing anymore, and in a lot of ways that's cool. We got a lot more research money that gets thrown at the industry now. This means we get better equipment, better pigments, better everything, all the time. So it's not so bad." For every con, there's a pro. I loved Bob.

The thing you never believe until it happens is that the coloring-in process is so much less painful than the outline. I don't know how it's possible, but it's true. Coloring takes up so much more skin-space, but it hurts at least half as much. I watched him do this part, filling it in, wiping the ink and the blood away, filling it in more. It was fascinating to see: where formally only my pale Irish skin proliferated, now there was an icon of black and red. Before I knew it, my tattoo was done. For the third time in my life, I was inked.

Rob had shown up at some point during the process and snapped a few photos. After I tipped Bob, we bundled into his car and headed on home. Two hours later, I removed the bandage and looked down at my skin: something new there, something fresh. Something formally plain now made art.

In my own small, painful way, I had been born again.