Heroes in red

Bear with me this week, friends, because I’m going to take a bit of a leap and draw a parallel between two very different people that we lost this fall – a comic-book mogul who enjoyed a full life of 95 years, and a young mother whose peaceful existence was cut tragically short at the age of 22.

No, there’s not a lot in common between Marvel Comics mastermind Stan Lee and We’koma’q First Nation resident Cassidy Bernard. But, since there are a lot more people talking about Lee than Bernard – which is part of the problem in itself – I thought I should search for a common thread, and I think I’ve found one.

Well, it’s not so much a thread as a piece of webbing shot by my favourite Marvel Comics character and one of Lee’s defining creations.

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More than any other Marvel regular, Spider-Man subverted the concept of the flawless hero – exemplified by Superman and so many of his DC Comics brethren – by giving us a shy, science-geek teenager with frequently-ripped red tights and a shifting moral code.

Remember, Peter Parker wasn’t planning to use his new abilities and identity for good. He was going to use it to make money, as a masked wrestler and a TV star. And once he had that money, he was willing to look away while criminals ran past him – including the armed thief who went on to take his beloved Uncle Ben’s life.

That was another reason Marvel Comics struck a chord with me as a kid growing up in the late ‘70s: In Spider-Man’s world, sometimes the villains win and innocent people pay the price for those so-called victories.

I was floored to pick up, at the age of 11, a Marvel Tales comic book entitled “The Night Gwen Stacy Died.” Even with all his super-powers, Peter Parker was helpless to save a fellow student that was one of the great loves of his life. (Younger readers might remember that this plotline plays out, in a no-less-heartbreaking fashion, during the second Amazing Spider-Man film featuring Andrew Garfield in the title role and Oscar-winner Emma Stone as Gwen.)

Decades later, I still struggle with the concept that evil often triumphs. On that horrible October morning, Cassidy Bernard’s name was added to the list of thousands of missing and murdered indigenous women across the country. Federal government figures list aboriginal women as making up 16 per cent of all missing and murdered women across Canada, even though they only make up four per cent of the total Canadian female population.

Even though our local media has dutifully reported all available facts connected to the case – including a front page story in The Reporter three weeks ago – it feels like nobody outside of our First Nations communities is even talking about this. Apart from the obviously-distressing trend of shrugging off a non-white death, there’s the concept that this seems to be getting minimal coverage from larger news agencies because Cassidy Bernard wasn’t raising her two infant girls in a major centre like Sydney, Halifax, or Toronto. No, this tragedy happened in a small community on Trans-Canada Highway 105, halfway between Port Hawkesbury and Baddeck, so it’s apparently not worth the provincial media’s efforts.

But that may soon change.

We’koma’q band councillor Annie Bernard-Daisley, one of Bernard’s cousins, has launched a campaign that will see red dresses – a nationally-recognized symbol for the death and disappearance of indigenous women – show up at prominent public landmarks, including the Canso Causeway.

This past Friday, hot on the heels of the #justiceforcassidy campaign that has hit social media this month, Bernard-Daisley also launched the #floodfacebookforcassidy initiative, which invites women to post pictures of themselves in red dresses on Facebook to maintain awareness of her cousin’s death and its aftermath.

It all comes as the National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls prepares to hold its final hearings, with the three-year-old inquiry’s official report due this coming April. And it also comes as those mourning Stan Lee have circulated these words from a 1968 edition of the “Stan’s Soapbox” column that he regularly published in Marvel Comics:

“It’s totally irrational, patently insane to condemn another race – to despise another nation – to vilify an entire religion. Sooner or later, we must learn to judge each other on our own merits. Sooner or later, if man is ever to be worthy of his destiny, we must fill our hearts with tolerance. For then, and only then, will we be truly worth of the concept that man was created in the image of God – a God who calls us ALL his children.”

Which once again reminds us that, even as evil lurks around our corners and in our communities, there’s more than one way to be a hero and we should never stop trying to do so.

‘Nuff said.