That's Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. writing in...well, to be honest, I don't really know where that quote originated (in the words of Eddie Izzard, "I'm very thinly read.") A quick search on the 'net tells me it's part of a longer passage from Holmes' The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table published in 1858.
But I've never read that work. I lifted it from a book by P.J. O'Rourke--even my borrowed wisdom is second hand. Holmes' words, by way of O'Rourke, have been part of my "official" e-mail signature for the last few years. I guess I'm always hoping that it will somehow excuse my habit of rambling on and on, making the same point over and over again.
No doubt, this was not Mr. Holmes intent. But he's not around to denounce my usage so I'm keeping it. From time to time I latch onto a piece of purloined profundity like this and twist it to my own purpose. Which brings us to The Brave and the Bold #177.
According to Mike's Amazing World of DC Comics, The Brave and the Bold #177, cover-dated August 1981, went on sale May 21st of that year. But I really didn't need Mike and his wonderful site to tell me that. I remember the spring of 1981 very distinctly. Y'see, on June 12 of '81, my mother passed away following her second open heart surgery. She was 43 years old.
My mom was sick for as far back as I can remember. She underwent her first open heart surgery when I was too young to really understand what was going on--'70 or '71, I think it was. After that, every couple of years she'd be back in the hospital. As an adult, I think about what she and my father must have gone through and I am amazed at their courage and love. My mother was a good person and a great mom and I'm thankful for every year that God allowed her to remain in my life.
"Hey Vin," I hear you ask, "what does all this depressing stuff have to do with B&B #177?" I'm getting there, I'm getting there.
I didn't handle my mother's death very well. In my defense, I was only 14 and 14-year olds don't handle anything well. I was your typical sullen teenager, the hero of my own personal tragedy. Only I had an "excuse" for my behavior. My mother had died, after all. I knew I'd never get an answer as to why this horrible thing had happened to my family. But I kept searching for something to hold onto, something that made sense, something beyond the meager answers provided by well-meaning people who couldn't possibly understand how much pain I was in. Shortly after my mother's death I reread The Brave and the Bold #177 and this silly piece of newsprint became very important to me.
The main feature in B&B #177 is a Batman and Elongated Man team-up called The Hangman Club Murders. This tale, written by Mike W. Barr and drawn by Jim Aparo, is a murder mystery wherein the Dark Knight Detective and the Stretchable Sleuth attempt to uncover who is killing the members of the philanthropic Hangman Club before the culprit strikes again. It's the kind of nifty little story that we just don't see anymore--very well-done but hardly important continuity-wise. It's very important to me, however, because of an exchange between the Caped Crusader and the Ductile Detective that occurs on page 8.
By page 8, both the founder of the Hangman Club and its accountant have already been murdered. Batman and Elongated Man compare notes at Bruce Wayne's penthouse apartment before setting out for a night of crime-solving and, well, I'll let you read the page yourself. (That's the original art, btw. When I had the opportunity to purchase this page a couple of years back I jumped at the chance.)
Ladies and gentlemen, Alfred Pennyworth, the coolest supporting character in comics, bar none.
It's a wonderful bit of character work from Barr and he is to be commended for high-lighting a rarely seen facet of Ralph Dibny's personality. It's easy forget that those awful jokes are Ralph's armor; his protection in a sometimes brutal world.
To my 14 year old mind that sentiment, "And if I laugh at any mortal thing...", seemed so profound. I took Byron's words as my personal motto, my license to deal with this crummy life in whatever way I saw fit. That decision didn't always net the best results. I became a little bit self-destructive for a few years there. Oh, I never did anything really terrible--I was either too smart or too cowardly to get myself into any serious trouble. But the crap I did pull caused my dad more than a few sleepless nights, I'm sure. I hope he knows how sorry I am about that.
Now, over a quarter of a century later, I still have a soft spot in my heart for this comic book. I guess, if I said that The Brave and the Bold #177 helped me through the loss of my mother, I'd be overstating the case. The truth is, I had a very forgiving family and a great group of friends who kept me for going too far astray. If I am in any way a well-adjusted adult, the credit goes to the people in my life who did not give up on me. It would be wrong to equate their love and understanding with a bit of ink and paper.
What I can say is this: when I was hurting and every word of comfort seemed hollow and false, I found something that sounded true in the pages of B&B #177.
Thank you, Lord Byron. And thank you, Mike W. Barr.