I got into comic books at a very early age; almost from the time I could read. My uncle was a big comic collector, and whenever I would tag along with my parents for family visits, I often found myself flipping through the pages of his various titles under Malibu, a popular independent publisher from the mid-‘80s to early-‘90s before Marvel bought them out.
My favorite title was The Strangers by Steve Englehart, which featured a redhead, like me, who was an android, unlike me. More specifically, she was a “pleasure bot” whose sole purpose was to gratify a wealthy white dude in a business suit up until the point at which she gained her autonomy following a mysterious lightning bolt striking a cable car she happened to be on.
This, and many stories like it, were a lot for single-digit-aged me to take in! The voyeuristic nature inherent to the portrayal of female superheroes, especially in the ‘90s, made me uncomfortable. There was no grasping the cause for my discomfort then. All I knew was that I could not figure out how to make my chest and buttocks point in the same direction like they did (I’ve, ahem, tried), and that these fictional women with their uniform, fictional bodies were what justice looked like.
…At least, this is what my young mind registered with every new comic I read.
By the time I got to high school, I was no stranger to just the opposite. I was a late bloomer: stick figure thin with no discernible gender. The injustices I knew came in the form of daily bullying and abuse from my peers. I had developed some pretty debilitating body image issues by this time, and my coping mechanism was to wear all-black baggy clothes which sometimes extended to include chains and black lipstick à la Hot Topic. I figured I had to fit in somewhere, so I tried to do it with all the other kids who didn’t fit in, and we could all not fit in together!
My father did not approve. Having an awkward, moderately gender-ambiguous spawn who indulged in Gothic aesthetics must have been very difficult for an ex-Navy soldier turned white-collar engineer to cope with. Being the frequent viewer of Fox News that he was, I was a living contradiction to everything he knew to be correct. I disappointed him a lot, and he yelled a lot more. I wished I knew how to please him without denying my own sense of self (what little I had). I’ll never forget his words, which would color my relationship with him over the course of my life: “To look at you is confirmation that I’ve failed as a father.”
Little did I know that these words would ultimately contribute to my eventual embracing of an altogether new identity…
It was not an immediate transition. Through comics, I retreated to a world of fantasy intermingled with feats of heroism, before following the pattern of physical and emotional abuse I endured into the most toxic relationship I had ever known.
He was my first love; the first man to take notice of me. He was more of a gamer than a comic book nerd, but we both shared a love of storytelling and that is where our interests predominantly intersected. What he did not share was my deeply ingrained sense for justice—but I had fallen so blindly in love with him that I overlooked the fact that maybe it was unjust of him to spitefully withhold items that belonged to his ex-girlfriend before me, lying to her that he had lost or thrown them away because “water damage.” Worse yet, maybe when he pitted his cats to viciously fight one another for his own amusement, he was being abusive.
Looking back, I should have known; all of the signs were there. His apartment functioned as just a bigger litter box in accommodation to his beloved animals for when their actual litter box got too full for them to go anywhere else. I could not recognize the severe neglect for what it was, just as I could not recognize when he began to abuse me too.
For years, I was in denial. He cut me off from my friends and family, thereby also eliminating outside perspective; but then, I loathed myself at the thought that I should even need it. I wondered what happened to that “deeply ingrained” justice I thought I knew, that was supposed to override each time he shut me up when I disapproved. Why did my love for him make me so weak-willed? I blamed myself up through the third time he cheated on me, to our eventual breakup.
I grieved for a time. I was self-destructive, and self-loathing. So many hours in the day had been devoted to him that I didn’t know what to do with my newfound time; and heartbroken, I could not function in my work or even the things I used to enjoy. I took long walks barefoot in the rain. I told stories. I focused on breathing. I did all the things I needed to do to get myself to a place where I could be okay.
Eventually I realized that the emptiness I felt was not for a rescinded love founded on lies and pain, but the result of all my escapism over the course of my life; all the denial to where I could not face my own abuse. I got to wondering what makes people hurt each other in this way—not that I would ever excuse an abuser for the damage they cause, but I sought to at least make sense of it so as to better cope with the ridicule, and at times, violence, at the hands of my peers; my father; my ex-boyfriend.
I caught wind of a “superhero movement” unfolding: real people suiting up to help their communities… for real! It was the awakening I needed.
I called myself the “Crimson Catalyst.” I began a daily workout regimen and got myself in the best shape of my life. From there, I pooled my savings and hopped a Greyhound into the biggest city nearest me—the windy city of Chicago. After alerting local law enforcement to my intended activities so as not to cause a stir, I scouted for others like me who wanted to form an alliance and help the homeless population on the cold streets in some of the harshest parts of town.
It was not long before I met up with another who went by the name of Seraph Sixwings, and together in full ensemble, we gathered supplies (blankets, first aid kits, basic toiletries) and braved the frigid evening air at −10 °F. It was somewhere around silly o’clock in the morning that the only few people left out and about were huddled in alleyways and loitering street corners. There was not a person we passed who did not need something… and then we found Muriel.
Muriel was an elderly woman who had parked her wheelchair outside a bar. I made a point of it to wave as we came upon her, since I was sure our presence would be disconcerting at first glance; we certainly gave pause to others who were more able-bodied, after all. Muriel was freezing, hungry, and missing one of her legs. The leg she had left was wrapped in several ratty blankets already, but I secured an extra blanket around it as she told me she had lost her other leg to the cold. Her remaining leg was on its way out for the same reason.
As Seraph left my side to find her some food, she explained to me that she felt unsafe at the homeless shelters; by the time she got to one, it was already over capacity, or others who were homeless would take advantage of her. Abuse her. She told me her story, and as she went on, I noticed that many people from within the bar began lining the windows to look out at us, some holding up their camera phones. It was so surreal to me, standing outside with Muriel as a spectacle to behold but not to partake in. In a strange way, that’s what comics had been for me. I gave Muriel my subway pass so she could at least get out of the cold and ride for a while.
I am learning forgiveness. My father did the best he could with what he knew. Though we don’t talk much these days, I will always love him. That’s one word we struggled with in my family: “Love.” I don’t think my father’s father said it much to him either, even though he must know it’s there. My father may have felt like he’s failed… but you know what? I feel like a success. Instead of escaping into a fantasy world, I have escaped the shell my escapism put me in. I molded my own fantasies into a reality, and though I may never waltz out of another phone booth donning my hood and ski goggles again, I know now that if the Crimson Catalyst had the power to make a positive, and lasting impact in some small way, then Taversia can do that too!