When there's no crime, Wonder Woman relaxes with a good book.

When there’s no crime, Wonder Woman relaxes with a good book.

I give the assignment. It’s about superheroes. There’s a lot to be said about superheroes–both Marvel and DC comic superheroes, and regular people who transcend everyday situations in ways that astonish me.

“Batman is not a superhero!” says one student.

“He is!” says the other.

“He’s a man in a suit. If he were naked he couldn’t do anything.” I picture Batman naked. I wish I hadn’t.

For ten minutes I listen to a group of students hotly debate the definition of “superhero,” parsing requirements down to a LinkedIn profile. Superheroes must have otherworldly strength. They must have some superpower–like the ability to fly, for instance. Their powers must be unexplainable, and they’re required to have a bad guy to defeat.

“How about Gandhi?” I interrupt. “He defeated the British and didn’t even punch anyone.” I think it’s pretty cool when you can defeat an entire nation without a left hook.

“Miss!” I’ve interrupted a discussion of leading intellectuals. They’re trying not to be annoyed. They break it down the best they can for an idiot like me, “Gandhi was not a superhero. He did not have otherworldly powers.” If he did, he could’ve stopped the bullet–Superman would’ve.

I go back to pretending not to listen.

“Wonder Woman is just a glorified cowgirl!” It’s heating up  like one of those 2AM college discussions where everyone pours out intellect fueled by high IQs mixed with cheap beverages and lack of sleep, pontificating late into the night. Who says our kids aren’t ready for college? But “glorified cowgirl?” I don’t expect gender bias in these times. I jump in again.

“What?” I say, “Women have equality nowadays, and the one female superhero you discuss has to be the ‘glorified cowgirl?’ I’m shocked. I expected fairness from you, not gender bias. In superheroes, no less? Hello! The 70’s called. They want their students back!” The students, guys, laugh at me. They’re deadly serious about their superheroes, though. The girls look on. They’re waiting for me to pounce–looking forward to it, I suspect.

“Miss,” one student uses a tone that rests squarely between, “Are you completely ignorant of the obvious?” and “You’re interrupting an intellectual conversation in which you are not qualified to participate.” He breaks down the reasons why Wonder Woman–or any female superhero, does not meet muster. “I can prove it. She doesn’t have a movie.”

I assure him Wonder Woman does have a movie. He asks for proof. I admit it’s from the 70’s–where his opinion should be. “Exactly,” he says. “Wonder Woman could be cool if she was played by the right person.” They list five or ten female actors who are hot.

“Wonder Woman must be hot to have superpowers? Again with the gender discrimination? Why can’t she be someone like me? Smart?” They converse on the side for a second or two, turn back, and say Wonder Woman cannot be someone like me.

I thought that was the definition of a superhero–an ordinary person with extraordinary powers. They correct me. Not “extraordinary,” they say. “Otherworldly.” Therefore, it can’t be me. But if I did have otherworldly powers, it shouldn’t be me anyway. I do not have the this-worldly qualifications of the list of female actors. They’re trying very hard to be polite while stating the obvious. I’ve used this tactic on them when their work stinks.

I tell them I’m going to write about this throwback in thinking. They give permission. They’re spending a couple of days researching, writing, and prepping for a debate  about whether science can produce bionics, superheroes, and “otherworldly” humans by analyzing pop culture superheroes and real-world science.

I expect to hear about Wonder Woman, Superman, Spiderman, the Green Lantern, Captain America and many others. Gandhi will not appear. I will not either. I can accept I don’t rate highly enough to be a superhero. We all have our gifts. I’d rather be smart, anyway.

If I cannot be a superhero, though, I hope I can at least be helpful in the classroom, so someday when these debaters look back, they realize that I snuck in some life lessons–real ones that matter–after all. Even without being a superhero.