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Honest Abe, cool superhero -- just spare us the Spandex suit

February 21, 2012 |  8:29 am

LincolnFaster than a speeding bullet? No, better not use that one (remember Ford’s Theater).

More powerful than a locomotive? The steamers of his day, maybe.

Able to leap tall buildings? He WAS extremely tall, and had a very long stride.

Hang up the cape, pretty-boy Superman. Go hang in a cave, rich-boy Batman. Honest Abe is commanding the superhero scene.

Presidents Day is officially about George Washington, but to most Americans' way of thinking, it honors both Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Was Spider-man Day ever a holiday, hmmm? I think not.

The Times’ "Hero Complex" has a bit written by the author of a forthcoming novel, "Red White and Blood," with Abe offering advice from the grave to save the present-day president.

He’ll be the subject of two films this year -- one based on the Seth Grahame-Smith novel that makes him out as a vampire slayer (remember that rail-splitter’s axe? It wasn’t just good for rails), and the other a Spielberg homage starring Daniel-Day Lewis. I predict a brief tizzy of indignation on Fox because Lewis was born in London.

Just about anyone can act Lincoln, and has, starting with kindergartners in construction-paper stovepipe hats and acrylic beards. Everyone wants a piece of Lincoln. He was the first Republican president, from the anti-slavery party, opposed by pro-slavery southern Democrats. He also supported the union rather than states’ secession rights.  In the middle of the Civil War, he endorsed the transcontinental railway with government bonds and land (you have to wonder whether such a transportation project would have been embraced by present-day Republicans; high-speed rail, anyone?).

Like the union he saved, he belongs to everyone. Kentucky, the state where he was born, claims him. Illinois, his political cradle, claims him. Some gay groups argue that he was gay. His face is on the most common coin of this nation’s making, carried in a million pockets and dropped into a thousand Starbucks tip boxes every day.

And President Obama, another man sent to Washington from Illinois, put Lincoln’s bust in the Oval Office. The Lincoln books just keep piling up.

Lincoln justly ranks as the best or second-best president, ever. He is at least as great as Washington -- unquestionably a better writer, and I believe his teeth were all his own.

There’s much more super-hero material to Lincoln than to Washington, in part because Lincoln was so real. He told jokes, sweated in the fields, made fun of himself, wept and worked his way through war and the deaths of his children. The backstory, as they say in Hollywood, is Carl Sandberg meets Stan Lee. George Washington, on the other hand, was so intimidating, so august and irreproachable that even his fellow Founding Fathers all but tugged their forelocks around him. Parson Weems made up that "I-cut-down-the-cherry-tree" story out of whole cloth to humanize the Olympian Washington. We admire Washington, but we love Lincoln.

So I am enchanted with a Lincoln super-surge, just so long as the man himself -- his melancholy, his insights, his complexities, his nuanced and pragmatic politics, and the character that saved this nation with wisdom and patience and perseverance, not muscle-power -- doesn’t  get lost in a simplistic telling of him.

I ask you, graphic book guys, don't inflict on me the sight of a shirtless Abe with six-pack abs, delivering a version of one of his renowned speeches, yowling "A house divided against itself cannot stand -- RRRRRGGGHHH!" as, with his bare hands, he pulls the Mason-Dixon line back into line.


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-- Patt Morrison 

Photo: Abraham Lincoln. Credit: HO/AFP/Getty Images

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