Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 18 – Avengers Forever!

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 18

Avengers Forever!

Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.


This past week, acclaimed director James Cameron opined about the upcoming film Avengers: Infinity War “I’m hoping we’ll start getting Avenger fatigue here pretty soon. Not that I don’t love the movies. It’s just, come on guys, there are other stories to tell.” Perhaps he is correct. Perhaps a break in the two-to-three Avengers movie a year cycle would serve the movie creating and going public well.

Perhaps. But, well, no. Sorry, Mr. Cameron. I think you are missing the point here.

If you have read even one of these Superheroic Leadership blogs, you know that I do not agree with Cameron on this count. Bring it on, I say. Give me more quality superhero films. Give me more Avengers movies. Give me more stories of people united by faith fighting for a higher cause.

I have not yet seen Avengers: Infinity War. If you are reading this blog the day it is published (Thursday, April 26), rest assured that problem will be corrected by this evening. Since the movie has not even opened at the time of this writing, I cannot say whether or not it is any good (I suspect it is). I cannot say whether or not I will like it (I suspect I will). I cannot say what it is about (but I can guess).

Avengers: Infinity War follows the story told in Captain America: Civil War which featured a fractured Avengers team, split down ideological and emotional lines, fighting with one another and broken apart. Clearly, the find a way to put their differences behind them and come together to battle a greater evil in the upcoming flick.

This trope has been a part of Avengers stories in the comic books going back decades. Conflict fuels narrative and comic writers have gone to the well of breaking up the team only to bring it back together many, many times. In fact, one of the most famous Avengers stories of the past 20 years was an arc entitled “Avengers: Disassembled,” a play on the “Avengers Assemble!” battle cry. The catch to this story along with all the others that have scattered the team to the four winds (including, I have no doubt, Avengers: Infinity War) is that the team always comes back together.

This, of course, is what good teams do. Banded together by a belief in common goals, a good team relies on those goals and their mission to unite them. They may not always agree. They may not always see eye-to-eye. They may fight among themselves. They may even break apart, for a time. But good teams come back together. They work through disagreement. They find common ground in the truths that bind them.

Perhaps the Avengers have something to teach us about disagreement and resolution…

Avengers Assemble!

Teach & Serve III, No. 36 – Look Up In The Sky

Teach & Serve III, No. 36 – Look Up In The Sky

April 18, 2018

The question, then, must be why? Why has Superman remained part of American (and world) consciousness for all these years? Why do we still look up in the sky?

When I was in the first grade, the day before school picture day, I ran into a brick wall – not a metaphor, I, literally, ran headlong into the corner of our house, smashing open my head on solid brick. My father took me to get stitches – seven of them as I recall – and, on the way home, changed my life.

My father was forever changing my life.

He bought me my first two comic books.

Thanks, Dad. Tens of thousands of issues later, I am pot-committed as a comic collector. More important than that, I have become more than an aficionado of comic book collecting and consider myself something of an expert on the study of comic books as an American literary art form.

You read that right: comic books are a form a literature.

The two comics Dad bought me that day featured two of the most famous American literary characters (in any list, they would have to be listed in the top ten): Batman and Superman. In case you’re wondering, I still have the issues – Batman Family #10 and Superman Family #181.

Superman is the longest running, continually published character in American literary history. Let that sink in for a moment. No other creation of any American writer or artist has been in continual publication as long as Superman has. That is something. That is special. That is powerful.

Superman is one of the most recognizable characters in the world, any quick search will convince one of that. And, today, the comic book in which he first appeared reaches its astounding 1000th issue. That is not a typo. Superman’s Action Comics hits number 1000 today.

Superman has not simply appeared in Action Comics, of course. He has starred in his eponymous title and in many, many others. He has starred in a newspaper strip, in radio and television and movies. He has been featured in video games and music and cartoons. He is all but ubiquitous.

The question, then, must be why? Why has Superman remained part of American (and world) consciousness for all these years? Why do we still look up in the sky?

One could discuss Superman as a myth or as the genesis of the superhero or as a stand in for Moses or Jesus Christ. These reasons could be posited as causes for his longevity and I would not argue with them. But I have another.

Superman endures because what he stands for endures. Superman fights a never-ending battle. It is a battle of absolutes. There is good. There is evil. Good people resist evil. They resist temptation. They resist taking the easy way out. Superman stands for all that has been good, is good and can be good again in humanity. Superman, as he beautifully says in the majestic and (in my not-so-humble opinion) misunderstood 2013 film Man of Steel, stands for hope.

He would have made a wonderful educator, this Superman, this hero who fights a never-ending battle, who does not give up, who is a champion of truth. He would have been an amazing teacher, a role model who has endless reserves, who rallies in the face of injustice, who empowers those around him. He would have been a inspiration in a classroom.

Oh, wait. He very much is.

Superman, as I have written about before and in my accompanying blog Superheroic Leadership, inspired me. He inspired me to read. He inspired me, “in his guise as Clark Kent” to write. He inspired me to lead.

Clearly, I am not alone.

1000 issues. 80 years. A massive and recognizable presence in the world.

I guess that is why they call him Superman.

I know this: my life would be much, much different without him.

Teach & Serve III, No. 35 – The Library

Teach & Serve III, No. 35 – The Library

April 11, 2018

This week is National Library Week and provides an excellent occasion to revisit a past blog… Our libraries may need to adapt and change. But let us be a bit careful.

Batman made me read.

This is likely a true statement. I use the word “likely” because who really remembers exactly the moment they turned on to reading. How really recalls the day and time that reading became as important as anything else in life?

I don’t recall the exact second on which my life turned – that second I decided I would be a reader – by I know Batman was the reason.

I was in first grade. I could already read – pretty well, in fact. This was the late 1970s and teachers were still dividing kids into ability groups. I was in the Dinosaurs with other good readers – amazing what we remember, is it not? I was not in the Lions. They could not read as well as we Dinosaurs could. I got it.

I could read and I liked it. But I did not love it.

I did not fall in love with reading until the day that I ran headlong into the corner of a brick wall. On the way home from the hospital following 6 stiches, my father bought for me two comic books: Batman Family and Superman Family.

I fell in love with comics on the spot and I fell in love with superheroes. I could not get enough of them.

While comic books were relatively cheap, my parents (wisely knowing the collecting hoarder I might one day become) did not always indulge my desire to buy them. Rather, we would hop in the car on many a weekend and head to the Arvada Public Library. There, as I recall, I could check out 3 items a week – whatever I wanted.

That what I wanted were more stories of superheroes was fine by my folks. I checked out comic books (which you could do back then… can you do it now?). I checked out books and records featuring stories of DC and Marvel superheroes. I checked out Little Big Books starring… wait for it… superheroes. The library fed my growing desire for comic book characters all the while powering my growing ability to read and comprehend.

I am not alone in owing libraries for this. Generation after generation learned to love language in just this fashion.

Libraries find themselves (as they ever have, by-the-way) at something of a crossroads, especially the ones in our schools. There is pressure to move them into the 21st Century (whatever that means), to make them media centers, iPad labs, moveable spaces, makers spaces and, alarmingly, to remove all books.

There are good reasons to pursue this line of thought and there are space pressures in our buildings. Our libraries may need to adapt and change. But let us be a bit careful.

I love me my iPad. I read most books and comics on it now. It is convenient to be sure, but, I have to ask, are kids falling in love with reading using their computers, phones and iPads? Is the same connection to the word developed when reading on a tablet?

Professor Andrew Dillon has done some work on the subject. He’s concerned about the tactile differences and how we are being conditioned. Professor Anne Mangen worries about the recall ability of those using e-readers rather than books. There are concerns.

My concern is much simpler: will people develop a love of reading without the physicality of the activity and without its accompanying shrines?

I am so proud of my sister. She has been a children’s librarian for almost 20 years. I’ve seen what she does for kids: she inspires them to read. Through crafts and displays and public readings and activities, she seduces kids to the word. She brings them into the library. She is part of a long tradition of educators who inspire.

We must be careful when we talk about modernizing our libraries. We must pay attention to what’s come before those thoughts. We must realize the stakes and they are high. Let us have high tech rooms, makers spaces, robotics labs and technology dens.

But, for education’s sake, let us also pay attention to libraries. Let us also have books. Let us find places for them in our buildings and in our lives even if they are no longer only housed in the space we previously called “The Library.”

Batman made me read. Libraries fed my habit. I am an educator now who reveres the word.

Is there a through line?

You better believe there is.

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 16 – Who Has Everything

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 16

Who Has Everything

Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.


What do you give Superman for his birthday? Is he not the quintessential “man who has everything?”

This was the premise of the seminal Superman Annual #11 (“For the Man Who Has Everything”) written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons in the midst of their Watchmen fame. Batman and Wonder Woman (and Robin?) come to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude to share with him the birthday gifts they have brought only to find that he is in the thrall of some kind of alien plant life that has rendered him comatose. In his mind, Superman is living a reality that places him on a not-destroyed Krypton with a wife and son and parents and a life very different from the one he is living on Earth. In order to come back to reality, Superman must give up this perfect and fulfilling fantasy and return to the real world.

The “gift,” as it turns out, was sent by an intergalactic villain named Mongul whose plan for conquering the Earth includes sidelining the Man of Steel with this hallucination.

Of course, the plan does not work. Superman gives up paradise to save the Earth, not unlike Captain Kirk saving the future by allowing Edith Keeler to die in the classic City on the Edge of Forever. It is a tragic story, but a heroic one.

What does it mean for us as leaders?

All too often we can find ourselves trapped in perfect worlds, in scenarios which are comfortable and do not challenge us, whether they are of our own making or not. We can find ourselves in echo chambers in which we only hear what we want to hear, only experience what we allow ourselves to experience, only risk what we want to risk.

This is no way to lead.

Excellent leaders, like Superman, break the bonds of contentment and complacency and sacrifice their comfort for the good of others. If we are not willing to do that, we ought not be leaders. If we are not willing to question our own comfortable lives, we cannot effectively lead.

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 10 – Where No Man Will Go

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 10

Where No Man Will Go

Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.


There were many cultural touchpoints to which to pay attention in 2017. In pop culture, one would be hard pressed to argue that the appearance of Wonder Woman and her rocketing to mass awareness was not one of them.

In what was, perhaps, the most talked about scene in her eponymous film, Wonder Woman is ensconced in a trench at the edge of No Man’s Land during a World War One battle. She is torn. She is pained. She is trying to understand the reasons why none of the soldiers with whom she is traveling are willing to take the field and protect the city on the other side of the battlefield separating the warring factions.

She is a princess of peace. She is a warrior of hope. She is distraught by what she sees.

And she acts.

She crosses the wasteland. She protects the people. She overcomes the odds.

Do we not yearn for leaders who recognize when impossible odds must be confronted? Do we not want leaders who are willing to risk everything for a greater cause? Do we not need leaders to lead us where our better selves might be too frightened to travel?

In this scene, Wonder Woman becomes a hero for all ages, all genders, all people. She becomes a symbol of hope, a beacon of truth and a lesson to learn.

Yes, this is fiction. Yes, in this context, she has powers to protect her. Yes, this is fantasy.

But we can lead into the teeth of danger – whatever the danger may be. We can confront impossible odds. We can do what is right.

And we must.

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 9 – Jedi Hubris

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 9

Jedi Hubris

Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.


I know more than I want to know about The Last Jedi. When you run in the circles in which I run, information about upcoming movies is hard to avoid. I have been in a media blackout for over a month on this film and I still know too much!

But there is one thing I know about the Jedi that I have known for a very long time. I have known this since I was a kid.

The Jedi are pompous jerks.

Seriously.

Think about it. They know all – or say they do. They claim to have access to special powers which you cannot access. They cut themselves off from personal attachments. They see the future but do not share their insights. They twist the truth to suit their needs (“what I told you was true from a certain point of view” anyone?).

And they kind of lord all this stuff over everyone with whom they interact.

Do you know any leaders like this?

Look, I like Luke and Mace and Obi Wan as much as the next geek but, come on!

The Jedi simply are not great leaders.

We learn more about leadership from them by not acting as they do.

In our leadership, a red light should flash when we feel as though we know all. We should hear warning sirens when we think we have access to things others do not and that is what makes us leaders. Likewise when we cut ourselves off from colleagues – from those we lead – we are headed down a bad road. And if we do not share all we know about what is coming in our institutions, we are more in love with the idea of leadership that we are with actually leading. Finally, when we twist the truth to influence those around us, we are on very thin ice from a prospective of effective leadership.

The Jedi are good. The Jedi are powerful. The Jedi helped save the galaxy a couple times.

But the Jedi are jerks. Hopefully we, as leaders, are not.

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 6 – Leading from Your Gut

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 6

Leading from Your Gut

Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.


The recent reboot of Star Trek (not Star Trek Discovery, but the JJ Abrams produced films) has dived fans. Some embraced it, some disdained it. There were few fans in between.

Put me very much in the embraced it camp. I think it is a terrific update, built for modern sensibilities, that pays significant and appropriate attention to the source material. I think it is full of energy and fun.

And I love the cast, especially Chris Pine as Captain Kirk.

Here is a Kirk who is learning, who is not fully formed, who is finding his way. How cool is that?

In the second (and most divisive) film in the trilogy, Star Trek Into Darkness, Kirk is faced with the realization that he is not as well suited for his leadership role – his captaincy of the Enterprise – as he had believed. He is overcome by fear and doubt and he is confused about what to do next. And he does what most of us do in situations like this: he defaults to his strength.

His instincts.

Throughout his career, Kirk has trusted his instincts. He has relied on his gut feelings. He has banked on the fact that his sixth sense will not let him down.

At times in our leadership journeys, no matter our preference for facing challenges and making decisions, we will be forced stripped down, we will be in the moment, we will be forced to rely on instinct.

And that is okay. If we are good leaders, part of the reason why we are is that our guts and instincts have led us to be. Sometimes, we have to trust them. Sometimes, logic is not enough.

Sometimes, it’s a gut feeling.

And that is okay.

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 5 – Know Your Team

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 5

Know Your Team

Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.


Mark Waid is a terrific comic book writer. Wickedly intelligent, possessed of an encyclopedic knowledge of the genre, abundantly talented, Waid has written almost every main character for both DC and Marvel of which casual fans would know. He has written some amazing storylines and he has contributed to the myth of many characters.

One of those characters is Batman.

Waid wrote Justice League in the late 1990s and early 2000s and he penned some terrific stories. One of those stories, Tower of Babel, added to Batman’s reputation in an immeasurably– defining the character to this day. It made such a lasting impression, it was adapted into the DC Animated Movie Justice League: Doom.

In the story, a group of villains break into the Batcave computers and discover Batman has been creating plans to take down each-and-every member of the Justice League should that ever become necessary. The villains use these highly effective plans against the League and, though the team eventually succeeds in defeating them, the heroes look at Batman differently from that moment forward.

Art for the story was provided by the terrific Howard Porter.

Batman respects his teammates. He knows their strengths and weaknesses. He knows that they might, someday, need to be confronted and challenged. Is it incredibly cold hearted that he has devised plans – in advance – of how to deal with them if they go rouge? Of course it is, but he is Batman, after all.

The leadership lesson here is not to keep files of those you lead and know how to defeat them. You are not Batman, after all.

No, the lesson is to know those with whom you work. Know their strengths. Know their weaknesses. Know that, even if they are close colleagues – and *gasp* perhaps even friends – there may come a time when you have to confront them, challenge them, disagree with them.  There may come a time when knowing your colleagues weaknesses is an important part of your leadership and as important as knowing their strengths.

When you are a leader, developing the leadership of those around you is a critical part of the work. Knowing how to help those around you grow and overcome their weaknesses is a significant leadership tool. Additionally, knowing how not to put people into situations that will defeat them – situations that are beyond their abilities – is just as important.

Know your team. Know their capabilities. Know how to put them in the best positions to succeed.

And know you are not Batman!

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 4 – Take the Short Way Home… It’s Not the Years, It’s the Mileage

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 4

Take the Short Way Home… It’s Not the Years, It’s the Mileage

Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.


Let us put this moment in context. Indiana Jones is racing against time to find the Ark of the Covenant before it can be delivered to Hitler and the Nazis. World War II is brewing. The Allies are good. Nazis are bad. There are decidedly not “some very fine people” among them.

The stakes are life and death.

The work of being a leader is rarely life and death, though it can be. Typically, leaders can arrive at decisions in reasoned and calm fashion, weighing fact and opinions, judging options, making determinations. Leaders often have time in which to lead and space from which to do it.

And those around leaders have opinions. They have suggestions. They have plans of their own, facts and theories and recommendations.

And they should. None of that is bad.

However, there are times when what surrounds decision-making, what encompasses leadership, what slows down the process is too much information, too copious opinions, too many cooks.

Sometimes a leader must simply cut through what is unimportant and superfluous.

Sometimes a leader recognizes that what is happening is distraction and needs to be stopped so a decision can be reached and action can be taken. Being decisive is not always easy. Sometimes there are costs. But leaders know when to act.

Which brings us back to Indiana Jones. World War II. Nazis. Evil.

And a leader who knows what needs to be done.

Read the following as metaphor… and cut through the red tape. Make decisions. Take action.

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 2 – What’s So Funny about Truth and Justice?

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 2

What’s So Funny about Truth and Justice?

Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.


They say that Superman is a hard character to write. This is a common mantra among those who follow the Man of Steel. He’s too clean cut. He’s too powerful. He’s too good.

He’s boring, especially in the context of the “real world.”

In the 1990s and early 2000s, anti-heroes were all the rage, heroes who did not force themselves to adhere to moral codes, heroes who would cross any line to serve their vision of justice. The X-Men, exemplified by their banner character Wolverine, were an example of this. The Authority was a team of almost omnipotent characters who were brutal and violent and just. Even the Avengers were recharacterized in this fashion in an alternate universe book called The Ultimates.

How does Superman fit into this world?

Not well.

But Joe Kelly, Doug Mahnke and Lee Bermejo presented a story in Action Comics #775 that underscored why Superman IS Superman.

In this landmark issue, Superman is confronted by a group of “heroes” calling themselves “The Elite.” These characters kill their adversaries, relish in their power and complain that Superman is hopelessly behind the times. They blame him for all the damage caused by villains the Man of Steel has left alive, villains who inevitably escape prisons and wreak havoc on the world. They say Superman is afraid to do what is necessary to protect the world.

Staging a televised showdown with the Elite, Superman appears to unleash violence as only he can, appearing to kill each member of the team (though he secretly saves each right before their “death” using his super speed) and terrifying both the Elite and the world, illustrating the evils of violence unchecked and power uncontrolled. As only Superman can, the hero reclaims the high ground, reaffirms his commitment to his moral code and has the world cheering for him in the process.

What’s so funny about truth, justice and the American way? Nothing.

Superman stands as an example of light not giving way to darkness. He refuses to cross lines and compromise his morality. He is upstanding. He is good.

We need more of this kind of good in our world.