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#25

The Boy Who Drew Batman



           Once there was a boy named Jordan who could draw Batman better than anyone else in his class. In fact, his drawings of Batman were more accurate, more detailed, and more perfect representations of the essence of who Batman was than anyone else’s drawings of Batman in the entire town. Although, to be fair, this was not a town, on the whole, that spent a lot of time drawing Batman.

            Every day during his free time at school, Jordan pulled out a few sheets of clean, white paper, sharpened several pencils, and set to work drawing Batman. Jordan drew from memory. He had a very distinct mental image of everything that went into being Batman and everything that Batman could be. He rendered Batman in all kinds of poses and from every imaginable angle, holding his breath as he carefully, carefully added the horns to the logo on Batman’s chest or penciled delicate folds into Batman’s sprawling cape.

            He loved to shade his pictures of Batman. He loved the contrast of the black pencil and the white paper as Batman moved from the shadows into the grimy light of a street lamp. He loved to draw Batman standing on the roofs and ledges of buildings with ornate gothic architecture. Though it was impossible to see the pupils of Batman’s eyes, when Jordan drew them there was a world of pain and fervor for justice in those narrow, white slits. It made Jordan very happy to draw Batman. He would know his current drawing of Batman was finished by a sudden calm that would sweep through him. He would put his pencil down, hold the drawing at arm’s length, and gaze at it with immense satisfaction. There, he would say to himself, is a work of beauty...and Batman.

            One day a classmate came up to Jordan and looked over his shoulder while Jordan was putting the final touches on a drawing of Batman leaping from the tip of a church steeple, a bolt of lightning slicing through the black clouds in the background. “Oh, cool,” said the classmate. “I like the lightning. What’s that big spike?”

            “It’s a steeple,” said Jordan . “Like on a church.”

            “Oh, awesome,” said the classmate. “Hey, will you draw me a picture of Batman?”

            Jordan was pleased that someone other than himself was enthused by his Batman drawings, even if that someone was sort of an idiot, so he said, “Sure, I can do that. I’ll give it to you tomorrow.”

            The classmate agreed and that night Jordan went home and got to work. He spent the entire evening, from supper until bedtime, drawing a picture of Batman for his classmate. In the picture, Batman was hurling his Batarang at some unseen assailant or assailants as bullets whizzed around him. The snarl on Batman’s face was a complicated one. It communicated a lot. The level of detail in the drawing was exquisite. As Jordan brushed his teeth that night, he thought about the drawing and how pleased his classmate would be, and he felt very proud and very accomplished.

            At school the next day, the drawing caused quite a commotion. Jordan ’s classmate was blown away by the drawing. He adored it and he showed it to everyone who walked by his desk. “ Jordan drew this!” he kept exclaiming. “He drew it for me! Free hand!”

            Jordan was an overnight classroom celebrity. That day he got four more requests from four different classmates for drawings of Batman. “Um, ok,” he said. “But it might take a while. It took me all night to do the Batarang and bullets one.”

            “We don’t care!” said his classmates. “Whenever you can get them to us is great. As long as they’re awesome.”

            “They will be,” promised Jordan .

            Every evening for the rest of the school week, Jordan was parked at his desk in his room at home, drawing pictures of Batman for his classmates. At first he tackled them with his usual level of enthusiasm, but as the week wore on, for the first time in his life, he began to wish he was doing something other than drawing Batman. Sometimes he would catch himself spacing out in the middle of sketching Batman’s bulging biceps, thinking about sports, the environment, and fashion.

            When Jordan delivered the drawings to his waiting classmates on Monday, they were thrilled. They failed to notice that these drawings weren’t quite as good as the Batarang and Bullets drawing had been, but Jordan noticed. He was a little embarrassed with himself, knowing that he could have done much better if he had just applied himself, but he was relieved that everyone seemed pleased with the drawing they had and that the whole ordeal was over. He planned to take a brief break from drawing Batman. After a few days of mental regrouping, he would return to his work with renewed interest and vigor.

            But, as soon as the rest of the class saw the new batch of drawings, no one wanted to be the one kid in class without one of Jordan ’s Batman drawings. The requests came flooding in during recess, and since Jordan had said “yes” to those first five classmates, he didn’t feel as if he could say “no” to everyone else. However, many of these classmates were not content to simply let Jordan draw what he felt at the time. No, they had specific requests. After all, these were going to be their Batman drawings, right?

            “ Jordan , can you make Batman smiling in mine?”

            “ Jordan , make Batman driving a speedboat in mine, OK?”

            “ Jordan , can you use colored pencils on mine? Also, I want his eyes to be glowing red.”

            “ Jordan , how come you always make Batman doing serious stuff? Can you make him, like, sitting behind Bruce Wayne’s desk with, like, a little speech bubble coming out of his mouth that says ‘oops?’”

            Jordan felt obligated to abide by the requests of his classmates, but as he did so, he could feel his passion for drawing Batman slipping away completely. To his eyes, each new drawing looked worse than the one that preceded it, more lifeless, more still, more silent. He kept waiting for his classmates to catch on, to realize that they were receiving inferior work, but they didn’t. As long as the elements they had asked to be included were there, they were happy. As long as Batman was playing that drum kit or riding that snowboard, they couldn’t have been more pleased.

            Jordan ’s grades began to suffer, he began to lose weight, he had no idea what was going on in his favorite TV shows.

            The only time Jordan ’s classmates were really displeased with the drawings they received from him were the times when he tried to interest them in something different than what they asked for. If a classmate had requested a drawing of Batman sneeringly operating a catapult and Jordan showed up with a drawing of Batman morosely gazing into a full length mirror, his cape pooling around his sagging boots on the floor of his Batcave, then Jordan had a problem on his hands, and he’d have to go home and draw Batman and the stupid catapult and the next day his complaining customer would be all smiles.

            Eventually Jordan realized that he had done far more drawings than there were kids in the class, so some of them must have gotten doubles, but he didn’t know who because he hadn’t been writing anything down. And if some kids had gotten doubles, then every kid would want doubles. And also, he was starting to get requests from the siblings and parents of his classmates, requests from kids in other classes, requests from teachers. The principal of the school asked Jordan to paint a mural of Batman waving a flag with their school mascot on it on the wall of the gymnasium. How could he say no to the principal? That night, he cried himself to sleep.

            The next morning Jordan woke up and realized that the thought of drawing Batman even one more time, whether he be grappling with an angel or waxing the Batmobile or contemplating death from a cliff above an ocean or punching the Riddler’s lights out, made him feel incredibly weary. As he lay under his covers dreading the day, a vision came to him, an image in his mind’s eye: Batman was sitting at a desk with his ankles chained together and a look of agony on his face. He was drawing a self-portrait of astounding quality. The Joker looked over Batman’s shoulder and held a gun to his head. The Joker was laughing and laughing. In the background, the Joker’s henchmen compared self-portraits that Batman had already completed. They all had one, yet the stack of blank paper sitting next to Batman on the desk stretched up and up and out of the frame into infinity.