The hero who weakened over time.
BY ALEX BEHR
[This piece originally appeared in the summer 2010 issue devoted to science fiction.]
IT’S TAKEN THIRTY-ODD YEARS for Chris, my younger brother, to clear up a misconception that made me question his sanity. For years, I thought he liked Ultraman, which we watched, in grainy black and white, whenever we were stuck at his friends’ brick houses in some northern Virginia suburb. My mom wasn’t friends with my friends’ mothers; she was friends with my brother’s friends’ mothers, which meant as they gossiped in the kitchen, I was banished to a chilly den on a cat-stained sofa with my younger brother while he and his friends watched Ultraman or Star Trek or another drecky sci-fi show. My brother, now grown with two master’s degrees in the sciences, naturally seemed like a fan of a show whose aim was to torment the ears and eyes of a sensitive, dramatic older sister. I liked my version of sci-fi: the passive-aggressive I Dream of Jeannie. (Sci-fi, as in imaginary elements that can be explained scientifically: While on a mission, astronaut Tony Nelson lands on a desert island and unleashes a bottle containing Jeannie, a sexy Babylonian genie. That’s science—time travel.) Ultraman got energy from the sun, yet became weakened over time on Earth. That’s his science. Ho-hum. No sex appeal.
Ultraman wasn’t an expression of the id, as with Kirk, or the super-ego, as with Spock. He was the Other, an androgynous space creature with a helmet for a face. The only ways in which my girlfriends liked sci-fi were if they could boyfriend the main character: Kirk; Spock—what was the option in Ultraman? Even Ultraman’s foes had more personality; the monsters had pupils and expressive eyes. Ultraman had bad kung fu moves. I watched a clip on YouTube: It looked like Ultraman and a monster were splashing in the ocean. The soundtrack: an air blower screeching behind canned military music. Via a recent text-message (AKA my research for this piece), Chris told me that he never really liked Ultraman, that defender from outer space. He wrote: “Maybe I was an odd kid. Only recalling now what I recall. Godzilla: cool. Ultraman: dork.”
Alex Behr is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. After receiving an MFA in creative writing from Portland State, she’s taught fiction and creative nonfiction at Portland high schools through Writers in the Schools residencies. Her writing has appeared in many online and print publications, including Bitch, Mutha, Propeller, Nailed, Salon, and Tin House. Her debut story collection, Planet Grim (7.13 Books), was published in October 2017.