So, yesterday I put up my rendition of a comic book hero’s version of the Gettysburg Address, and offered people to get the chance to guess at it.
Here it is again:
Ninety-odd years ago, our mothers and fathers made a new country out of nothing, where we were all free and we were all equal. Now we’re in the middle of a civil war, because not everybody agrees with the whole “free and equal” part nowadays. Here, where our friends and family have fallen, we’re going to build a final resting-place for them. They deserve that – but they also deserve our solidarity, because they paid the ultimate price for our freedom, and we owe them the willingness to pay that price ourselves, if we have to. We have to remember what they did for us, and we have to use that memory to keep fighting, for as long as we have to fight. And we’re going to win, because we have to win.
So, the answer?
It’s Spider-Man, or at least it’s supposed to be. I think a lot of the comments and mails that didn’t guess him directly had him as an alternate, and given that we’re talking about text and lacking the reliance of context, I feel reasonably content with it.
A few people guessed Captain America, and I think they were gulled a bit because of the subject matter of the piece. A few things, to me, disqualify the rewrite as being Cap. “Ninety-odd” makes it less likely right off the bat, because Captain America strikes me as someone who’d know important dates and time periods of American history by heart, and although Cap can be informal in his diction, him using “ninety-odd” would be either too flippant or too folksy (remember, he’s from the Lower East Side). Also, although Cap’s not a sexist, his language is a bit dated because he’s a child of the Depression, so he wouldn’t instinctively say “mothers and fathers” instead of the more traditional “forefathers.”
Still, either of those could still work, depending on how you choose to interpret Cap as a writer, but the thing for me that just kills any chance of it being him is the “free and equal part” line. That’s simply too informal a line for him to say, even for when he’s in his full-on Ultimate Marvel Surrogate Dad role.
Buffy was another popular guess, and it’s not surprising because Buffy shares a lot of traits with Spider-Man: self-sacrificing, determined, eloquent in an informal sort of way, tendency to be a bit of a smartass, et cetera. And honestly, this speech would work pretty well for Buffy. But there’s a couple of tripwires there that, were I writing for Buffy rather than Spidey, I would avoid by rewriting.
The first is the use of the word “solidarity.” That’s a nice five-dollar word right there, and where Spidey is right at home with five-dollar words, Buffy – although she’s nothing if not glib – doesn’t really use them when she’s really trying to make a serious point. (Go listen to some of her speechifying, especially in season seven. When she’s aiming to lead, she drops her syllable count something fierce.)
The other is the use of cadence and repetition, which just doesn’t strike me as being entirely right for Buffy, at least not to the degree it’s used here. “When we were all free and we were all equal” is too longwinded for Buffy, who’s a bit impatient by nature, and would just say “when we were all free and equal” (and maybe even drop the “all”). Repeating the “we have to” is also a bit of a push. The final double repeat about winning works, though, because it’s a good, stark emphatic finish, which I think very apropos for Speechifying Buffy.
So it’s Spidey. A few points on my thought process here.
1.) “Mothers and fathers.” A lot of people assumed that the inclusion of mothers in it meant it had to be a woman, but in a postfeminist era, I don’t see any problem with male characters mentioning their mothers – and Aunt May is Peter’s proxy mom, period, and there simply isn’t a bigger mama’s boy in comics than Spider-Man.
2.) The use of repetition and cadence. One of my favorite things about Spidey comics is his thought process – Spider-Man mentally pep-talks himself all the time, in the “gotta do this… gotta do this…” sense. I wanted to translate that sense of exhortation into his style of giving a speech (which he doesn’t do often).
3.) Maybe it’s a bit cliche, but I really wanted to drum home the ethic of personal responsibility for the greater good here, since that’s a classic Spider-Man theme. Couching everything as a “we have to,” explaining the whys.
So that’s how I wrote that. Your mileage may vary. Remember, the point of this exercise isn’t to indelibly make the re-statement identifiable to all and sundry as the character you intend it to be, but to give you, the writer, a better idea about how they speak and sound.