As a fan of most things related to superheroes, I (along with multitudes of teenage boys) have often wondered what it would be like to be one of them. It was an idle thought until last week, when I had the flu. Nothing like a little fever delirium for vivid dreams from a mind bent with Tamiflu and cough syrup.
The superhero that seems to have the most fun is Spiderman. Batman is way too intense. I couldn’t handle the decades of physical training. Superman was just born different, and seems to consider his cape to be a heavy burden of responsibility. (The only Superman that seemed to have any fun was the version played by Christopher Reeve, especially the first movie, Superman, but I suspect that was mainly because of Lois Lane. He became playfully human when he was flirting, and it was adorable.)
But Spiderman is an accessible dream. Peter Parker was a normal(ish) kid who became super after being bitten by a radioactive spider. That could happen to anyone who was in a place with spiders…that got loose after being irradiated. But, of course, he was a teenager. The story would undoubtedly be different if the spider had bitten, say, a middle-aged woman who makes her living sitting behind a computer. That’s when my fever dream kicked in.
A few years ago, I spent a brief time volunteering in the Living Conservatory (aka the butterfly room) at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. This is a living space filled with tropical dry forest plants and more than two dozen species of butterflies—so many flutter-bys that the room feels magical. There were also a couple of hummingbirds and, oddly, a two-toed sloth.
That was the closest I have come to being “trapped” in a space with animals on the loose. What if there was some accident at some fictional research facility nearby? What if I was in the room when the accident occurred, and I was imbued with the powers of the creatures around me? What if I had my Spiderman moment in the butterfly room?
So, now I’m some weird combination of Butterfly-woman, Hummingbird-woman, and Sloth-woman (big stretch there). Hummingbird might be fun and very helpful in a get-me-there-fast situation, but what good could Butterfly or Sloth be? What if, as I was fighting crime and injustice, I morphed into one of the creatures randomly? I steal the secret plans to destroy the country, and turn into…what, a sloth? Big help.
That’s about when my fever broke and I realized that Spiderman had a lucky break. He could have been bitten by a butterfly.
Or he could have been a middle-aged woman with the flu.