Criminal Penguins

When a globetrotting family friend recently shared tales of thieving penguins, it reminded me of something I had long forgotten. A few years ago, a college friend showed me this footage of penguin crimes. I hadn’t known penguins were so nefarious. They seemed so cute, fluffy, and innocent.

It’s worth noting that one of Batman’s greatest foes is known as the Penguin. Coincidence? Clearly not!

Be wary of penguins, dear reader. Watch your wallet and hold your children close! There’s no trusting the white-collar criminals known as penguins.

299. I Am Not Batman

Yes, I know this may come as a shock to some of my readers. Some may have been so sure that I am secretly the Caped Crusader: the legendary vigilante who dresses as a bat for some reason. It is not so.

I am not Batman.

One of These Is Not Batman

All the same, I sometimes hold myself to impossibly high, Batman-esque standards. I also have Batman Syndrome, obsessing over my failures and allowing little mistakes to cancel out great successes. I demand much of myself. I have to be productive. I have to get stuff done.

I forget that I’m not Batman. He may be the pinnacle of human strength, will, and intelligence, but I am not. I’m a guy who needs sleep, gets sick, and needs a day off now and then.

A few days ago, I was reading the latest post from an animator’s blog. Something he said struck a chord with me.

And tomorrow I’m taking the day off from everything and not working on anything . . . It’s been a long time since I took a day completely off, so it’s due. We need downtime. Our society doesn’t like that because we’re not being productive members of society when we don’t do anything, but if we’re always on 24/7, we burn out.

This man has clearly learned a valuable lesson. He understands that he is not Batman. No ordinary person can be on the go all the time, working constantly, never taking a break, expecting nothing less than absolute effort. Normal, non-Batman human beings need days to take naps, read a book, or play Mario Kart. Without those days, we break down. It’s not weakness or self-indulgence to relax occasionally. It’s a necessity.

I’m often busy even when I don’t have to be. More often than I care to admit, I wear myself out working on things that aren’t urgent—things that can wait until I’ve had a cup of tea, a walk to the park, or a good night’s rest. I get so accustomed to being busy that I feel guilty or panicked if I spend too long without doing something “productive.”

There’s something in the Old Testament about taking a day off every week: the Sabbath day. I usually file it away with all those rules about burnt offerings and unclean foods as a religious law that has become obsolete. I’m no longer so sure. Besides being healthy and sensible, taking days off seems like an affirmation of faith—a way of saying, “I trust God enough to give him today.”

Sometimes, determination and coffee aren’t enough: “Man shall not live by caffeine alone,” or something like that. I am not Batman, and I sometimes need a break.

Unless you’re Batman—I’m guessing you’re probably not—you may sometimes need a break, too. Don’t be afraid to take one!

239. TMTF’s Top Ten Unstoppable Heroes in Literature

Many works of fiction feature unstoppable heroes. These paragons of excellence may not be immune to defeat, but they sure seem like it!

Take Batman. He has no superpowers; Bruce Wayne is just a man with a high-tech suit and some fancy gadgets… and he’s also nigh-invincible. He excels physically, intellectually and morally as a strong fighter, brilliant strategist and champion of justice. I suppose it’s technically possible to kill Batman, but we all know in our heart of hearts that he’s unstoppable.

Literature is full of characters seem physically, intellectually or morally perfect. These are the characters the reader is sure will never be killed or get caught or suffer defeat. They are not invincible, but they may as well be. Some are nearly invulnerable; others are simply too clever or confident to be held down.

Why must I take an entire blog post to list unstoppable heroes from fiction? I can only echo George Mallory and reply: “Because they’re there.” As long as there are things to be ranked in top ten lists, TMTF shall be delighted to oblige!

My usual rules apply to this list: only one character is allowed per author, and characters can be included only from books I’ve read. (Batman would make the list, but I haven’t actually read any of his comics.) An unstoppable hero is defined as a character whose physical, intellectual or moral excellence make him or her seem utterly impervious to defeat.

Be ye warned, here there be minor spoilers.

Prepare to be amazed, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Unstoppable Heroes in Literature!

10. Phileas Fogg (Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne)

Phileas Fogg

Phileas Fogg is an impassive British gentleman whose life of precision and strict regularity is interrupted by the decision to circumnavigate the world in just eighty days: a feat that seems impossible given the limited technology of the time. Is it even possible to travel so far so fast? The reader must wait for an answer, but one thing is clear from the beginning. If it is humanly possible to travel around Earth in eighty days, Fogg will do it. Nothing—not faulty railways, conniving detectives, Sioux warriors or insufficient fuel—can deter this man.

9. Professor Albus Dumbledore (Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling)

Albus Dumbledore

Gentle, wise, whimsical and rather odd, Professor Albus Dumbledore is the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Dumbledore’s seeming frivolity and warm sense of humor belie his shrewd mind, powerful magic and terrifying capacity for anger: “There was cold fury in every line of the ancient face; a sense of power radiated from Dumbledore as though he were giving off heat.” Despite his age, Dumbledore seems far too clever, strong and wise to be stopped even by death. Right? Right?

8. Tristan Farnon (All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot)

Tristan Farnon

In James Herriot’s fictionalized memoirs, Tristan Farnon is an irresistible force of optimism, charm and good-natured mischief. Not even the tyrannical bossiness and short temper of his older brother Siegfried can dampen his cheerful outlook. Tristan drinks too much, plays practical jokes and flirts with every young female in sight—and he nearly always gets away with it.

7. Mr. Great-heart (The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan)

Mr. Great-heart

Mr. Great-heart is too good to be true. A manservant, Mr. Great-heart is ordered by his master to accompany Christiana and her companions on their journey to the Celestial City. His role for the rest of the story is to slay giants, rescue pilgrims, light dark paths, discuss theology and generally be an impossibly perfect (and mostly uninteresting) blend of warrior, mentor, guide and teacher. Mr. Great-heart is so angelically brave and pure that there’s absolutely no question of getting in his way.

6. Kaito Kid (Detective Conan by Gosho Aoyama)

Kaito Kid

Kaito Kid hails from Detective Conan, a long-running (and ongoing) series of mystery manga (i.e. Japanese comics) also known as Cased Closed. Kid is a gentleman thief, expert magician and master of disguise whose crimes are perfect. Even his habit of announcing heists beforehand never seems to get in his way: no matter how smart the police, Kid is smarter. Kid pulls off tricks that seem supernatural… until Conan, the eponymous detective of the series, figures them out. However, even Conan can’t always stop Kid. It’s fortunate that Kid always returns whatever he steals!

5. Sherlock Holmes (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

Sherlock Holmes

As long as we’re discussing detectives, let’s not forget the father of them all: Sherlock Holmes. How many cases has this man solved? How many juggernauts of crime has he brought to justice? No trick is too tricky nor mystery too mysterious for the incomparable Holmes. Besides being, you know, a freaking genius, Holmes is a skilled fencer, actor, sharpshooter, violinist, martial artist and expert on a bewildering range of subjects from poisons to tobacco ash. No criminal stands a chance against Holmes.

4. Gandalf (The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien)

Gandalf

According to Tolkien’s mythology, Gandalf is basically an angel. A freaking angel. So yeah, he’s unstoppable. This short-tempered wizard is ancient, but his age doesn’t stop him from traveling the world, battling monsters and getting in and out of scrapes. Even death can’t stop this man. When Gandalf dies after dueling a demonic beast, some higher power resurrects him and sends him back to save the world. Gandalf recovers from death the way most people recover from colds, and I’m pretty sure there’s no stopping him.

3. Obelix (The Adventures of Asterix by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo)

Obelix

When the ancient Roman Empire conquers Gaul, a vast region of Western Europe, they don’t conquer all of it. One tiny settlement, “the village of the indomitable Gauls,” remains free. The good-natured residents of this tiny town repel the legions of Rome thanks to a potion that gives them temporary surges of superhuman strength. When young Obelix falls into a cauldron of this potion, it has a permanent effect on him. Obelix grows into a pudgy delivery man who can lift anything, cannot be harmed and is literally unstoppable.

2. Jeeves (Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse)

Jeeves

Imagine Socrates, Confucius and Solomon rolled into one person, and then make that person a polite British valet. Congratulations: you’ve just imagined Jeeves, insofar as human imagination can devise a person as brilliant as he. Jeeves doesn’t contend with giants or monsters or criminals—if he did, they would be toast. No, Jeeves turns his colossal genius toward solving social crises and keeping his wayward employer, well-meaning but dimwitted Bertram Wooster, out of trouble. Jeeves’s dry wit, perfect composure and sheer intelligence make him an inexorable force of peace and order.

1. Aslan (The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis)

Aslan

Aslan is basically Jesus Christ, and also a lion with huge muscles and sharp teeth. You can’t get any more unstoppable than that. What’s that? Aslan dies? Please. Aslan watches Gandalf conquer death and says, “See here, lad, this is how it’s done.” Able to appear anywhere and do anything with his infinite wisdom and boundless power, Aslan is absolutely the most unstoppable hero in any fiction I have ever read.

O people of the Internet, what unstoppable literary heroes would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!

When Batman Has a Bad Day

A wise person once said, “Always be yourself, unless you can be Batman. Then be Batman.”

Batman is my favorite superhero. Christopher Nolan’s excellent films introduced me to the brilliant, skilled martial arts prodigy who decided the best way to cleanse his city of corruption was to dress up like a bat, throw pointy objects at evildoers and drive around in a really neat car.

Batman is interesting because he has no superpowers. His abilities are the fruit of determination, intelligence and self-discipline, augmented with some sweet technology.

More significantly, Batman is a conflicted character. I like conflicted characters. Granted, most superheroes have insecurities. Batman is different. As Charlie Brown would say, his anxieties have anxieties; Batman is the eponymous sufferer of Batman Syndrome. Nevertheless, he keeps going. He sees no joy and little hope in doing the right thing, yet he does it anyway. I admire that.

On a less intellectual level, Batman is really cool.

However, like every other person on Earth, Batman has bad days. The charming animation above depicts a day when the Caped Crusader just can’t seem to catch a break. Keep an eye out for an appearance from comics legend Stan Lee!

170. Batman Syndrome

I have Batman Syndrome.

I wish this meant I were as cool, skilled or accomplished as Batman. It does not. It most certainly does not. What it means is that Batman and I have something in common: we obsess over our mistakes.

If you or someone you love suffers from Batman Syndrome... I feel your pain.

If you or someone you love suffers from Batman Syndrome… I feel your pain.

I like fictional characters who overlook their victories and overemphasize their failures. There’s something compelling about characters who are heroic without realizing it. Take the Doctor from Doctor Who, who has saved every planet in the universe roughly twenty-seven times. In all his travels through space and time, he never leaves behind his insecurity, self-loathing or guilt. Consider Jean Valjean from Les Misérables, who atones for a few petty crimes by spending years serving the poor and helpless. They bless him as a saint. He despises himself as a criminal.

Then we have Batman, the eponymous sufferer of Batman Syndrome, who is so blinded by guilt that he fails to recognize one all-important fact: he is freaking Batman. No matter how many thousands of people he rescues, he remains obsessed with the two he failed to save.

I’m not a savior like the Doctor or a saint like Jean Valjean. I’m certainly not a superhero like Batman. Even so, I occasionally do things right. I also do things wrong. In my mind, the wrong things eclipse the right ones. A mistake cancels out all successes.

This isn’t always such a bad thing. I feel driven by my mistakes to try harder, to be better, to get it right. In the short term, it helps.

In the long term, however, Batman Syndrome wears away my confidence. It also makes me anxious. Dash it all, does it ever make me anxious. Doing anything is hard for someone desperately afraid of making mistakes. Perfection is a lousy minimum standard.

Batman Syndrome haunts me with one dreadful question.

You’ll never get it right, so why even try?

I write a lot about grace and stuff. In the end, I suppose it’s because I’m amazed (and sometimes incredulous) that God loves me. I’ve made a lot of mistakes. More to the point, I make a lot of mistakes. It’s easy for me to accept God’s forgiveness for a sin committed ten years ago. What’s hard for me to accept is forgiveness for a sin committed ten minutes ago.

It can also be hard for me to acknowledge my victories. I want to be humble, but there’s a difference between true humility and false modesty. I’m often reminded of my weaknesses. I think I must also allow myself to be reminded of the strengths God has given me. I’ve a long way to go, but I mustn’t overlook how far I’ve come.

I’m not Batman, and I think I’m finally beginning to accept that I don’t have to be.