Lesson Plan: Who was the Dream Guardian? Who were his team, the Dead of Night? Can superheros ever die? What is the importance of superhero team names?

 

Who was The Dream Guardian?

 

“Well.” Ms. Cryptic walked over to the exhibit the boy pointed to. “Let’s have a look at you then…”

 

The exhibit was a large glass case containing a dark blue suit too stylized for any profession other than superheroing, a bright red cape and several silvery headbands lined with diodes and lights and buttons, some broken into pieces and some so new and unused they sparkled. There were pictures and paintings showing the dreams he brought forth with his headbands and the nightmares that they fought. Some were physically realistic images taken from Leadbeater plates. Others were mentally realistic images taken from the memories and impressions of the artists that painted them. One set of images showed two interpretations of the nightmare called “The Boston Fireball” side by side. The first was a plate image credited to MIT and showing the nightmare as a blob of floating luminescence wreathed by an electric arc. The second was a modernist painting by artist Hazel Chapman who had seen the Fireball with her own eyes. The painting depicted the Fireball as a red funnel lined with teeth like broken glass. Both images were necessary to understanding the thought-form fully.

 

“The Dream Guardian…. He fought nightmares and those that created nightmares. He was a good man. Now what made you point to him Roy?” Ms. Cryptic asked her student.

 

“I dunno.” The boy shrugged. “He’s a superhero…I mean he’s obviously a superhero.”

 

“He does check many of the boxes, doesn’t he?” Ms. Cryptic said. “He had a costume, special powers through series of Bessant headbands that gave him the power to project and control thought-forms, and a secret identity so well hidden that it wasn’t until 1985 that the world knew him as Mitchell Cavendish, psychologist. He fought a colorful rogues gallery of living nightmares and supercriminals breeding nightmares and he joined the super team The Dead of Night…which I assure you children were a noble group of individuals in spite of their macabre sounding name. I remember them from when I was a girl. I thought it was wonderful how so many of their number had awkward forms and powers such as I had and still did the most they could with them. I found it inspiring…and er, if you look over there you can see their exhibit…” She shook off her nostalgia and pointed to a collection of mementos from The Dead of Night’s long career.

 

Who were his team, the Dead of Night?

 

There was a reproduction of the jewel encrusted helmet and staff Pluto granted to The Dead of Night’s leader Marvin Friedrich, The King of Nightland, as recognition of his status as fellow Dis Pater and Nightworld’s status as an afterlife recognized by the Dis Pater Unio. The real helmet and staff were kept on The King of Nightland’s person at all time as his official badge of office, but the reproductions were worthy representations.

 

There was a silvery caduceus staff with burning red rubies in the eyes of the crowning snakes. Each member of the Dead of Night was given a caduceus by Mercury himself in recognition of their role as psychopomps and this specific staff belonged to Feathertop the Scarecrow. Feathertop donated his staff to the Smithsonian when he retired from guiding fresh spirits and lost souls to Nightland or the afterlife of their choice to guard the borders of Nightland as a cerberi, a protector of the borders of an afterlife. The 1979 territorial invasion of Nightland by the forces of Lord Enma was something Feathertop felt he had to personally prevent from ever happening again.

 

And there were other items of less importance: one of The Gargoyle’s extra shells- a squatting granite monster with a dragon’s head and bat’s wings and a goblin’s snarl, a vial of sacred sand that spilled from Banafrit the Shabti’s wounds when she fought with Set for the souls of the New Pharaohs, and a chunk of tombstone that broke off Myles Standish The Living Cemetery during his 1977 invasion of the Nightland (being a young afterlife Nightland was constantly a target).

 

Myles Standish was an old ghost whose phantasmal powers were matched only by his loneliness. For centuries he existed in a fitful half-sleep beneath the soil of a New England cemetery with only known only his memories of colonial America as comfort. When he finally woke to the modern world he was horrified by how much had changed and even more so by how much his memories had changed beneath the ground. He misremembered the name of his settlement, several names of his family members, and even the dates on his tombstone. Now fearing time and change above all else he vowed to great an afterlife where ghosts would sleep forever inside the ground never go through the pain of forgetting and misremebering like he did. He used his ghostly powers to animate the entire surrounding cemetery and become The Living Cemetery with a body of earth and bones of stone. As walking consecrated ground he could imprison spirits within body where they would sleep forever, unchanging, truly immortal. After enslaving the nearby ghosts of his cemetery into an army he was ready to upgrade into The Living Afterlife. He only needed to find a lot of souls to “liberate” into a dreamless sleep. He set his sights (Like so many did back in the seventies) on the young afterlife of Nightland.

 

But fortunately the Dead of Night did their duty as defenders of Nightland and stopped him. And after he was contained and reasoned with by The King of Nightland and Dream Guardian he became Nightland’s “Living Penitentiary” embracing even the most violent and destructive spirits within his soil, each tombstone a cell.

 

“Why were they called the Dead of Night?” One boy asked. “None of them seemed dead to me. Most of them are like The Gargoyle and Feathertop, most of them are…whatever it is you call robots that aren’t really robots…”

 

Several students cringed slightly. Talking about robots or robot-like people and the names hey were called was something that made adults uncomfortable, and the children being children followed even the bad habits of the adults even if they weren’t sure why. They were supposed to be uncomfortable when people brought up the topic of robot names and so they were.

 

“Well wait a second.” Another boy added. “I don’t know about the rest but Dream Guardian definitely DID die. I read a book about it.”

 

“Children, children, one question or comment at a time please!” Ms. Cryptic exclaimed. “I’m very glad to see you’re interested in the lecture, but let’s take it easy! Now let’s get a handle on these questions. First Rob’s question-Dream Guardian did er…die. It happened in the 1990’s I think…yes, 1994, that’s what it says right there.” Ms. Cryptic pointed to a plaque over a series of headbands covered with spikes and tiny metal skulls. “In 1994 his physical body was destroyed by his arch-foe the Nightmare Breeder, but his mind was recorded onto his headband, albeit imperfectly due to damage from the battle. Once his friend Feathertop provided him a new body to place his mind inside his personality began to reform itself out of the headband recording- but not all at once unfortunately.  Due to imperfections in the recording the aggressive parts of his personality resurfaced first as these er, decorations on these headbands show.” Ms. Cryptic pointed a feathered finger at a headband in the case ringed with angry looking spikes.

 

“Dream Guardian took to calling himself Dream Hunter and left the Dead of Night to join the recently established superteam Hell’s Hunters…fortunately the other facets of his personality resurfaced in time and he rejoined the Dead of Night as Dream Guardian in 1998. So yes, Dream Guardian was one of the many superheros who have died and come back. But don’t you get any ideas children!” Ms. Cryptic waved a finger in front of her children. “The fact that superheros and superhumans sometimes die and come back due to incredible circumstances is NOT a license for any of you to be careless in an emergency! There are many, many superheros who have died and stayed dead, so many in fact that there’s an entire hall in this museum dedicated to them!”

 

Can superheros ever die?

 

Ms. Cryptic pointed to a hall marked “Sanford Quest Hall of Remembrance and Memorial”. A small sign at the side of the entrance informed that it was “Formerly David Manly Hall, Formerly Brad Lane Hall.”. The Hall of Remembrance and Memorial was named after the earliest deceased superhero known. And that was Brad Lane aka Radio King who was believed to have perished in 1920 stopping a raid on New York harbor by sewer dwelling alligator men…until it was revealed that he had survived by encoding his thought-patterns onto the secret encrypted radio frequency used by himself and his team of agents in much the same way Dream Guardian cheated death by recording his mind into his Bessant headband. Radio King’s frequency was revealed to America’s superhero community by his agents following his apparent demise and for decades served as an emergency communication system for America’s superheros called the RKF for Radio King’s frequency. It was celebrated for its reliability. Signal interference, be it from natural thunderstorms or supernatural cosmic storms, never seemed to affect it much. No one knew that the RKF’s fidelity was due to it being alive, not until it was retired from active use in 1999 to in favor of a new pan-telepathic network called Signal Watch and was adopted as the carrier for the official radio program of the Statesmen, State of The Nation.

 

The mind of Radio King was able to rest inside his waveform prison for decades because he constantly heard the dangers faced by his superhero friends and used his mind to hold together the emergency signal when it would have otherwise broken. He saved lives keeping together the RKF. He had a reason for existing as he was and was content But when the RFK was retired and started playing pop songs and Ms. Cryptic’s lecture series he began to resent his condition. Eventually he got to the point where he started producing “haunting” effects in the studio like spontaneous discharges of electricity and cold spots. Ms. Cryptic and other paranormal experts like the current Stateswoman of Louisiana Madame Delphine the Voodoo Queen and the current Statesman of Massachusetts the Black Minister investigated. Together they were able to not only pinpoint Brad Lane’s consciousness inside the RKF but extract it. Now once more among the living with an ethereal body composed of radio static Brad Lane still burned with the desire to fight crime and protect the innocent that kept him going when he was little more than a tune in the air. He threw himself back into crime fighting as a true king of the radio waves, and the Smithsonian had to quickly change the name of the Hall of Remembrance and Memorial.

 

The Hall of Remembrance and Memorial was then named after David Manley aka Laughing Mask, one of the first superheros (and arguably the first superhero) who first appeared in 1916 to fight the machinations of notorious master criminal Iron Claw. Laughing Mask, was armed only with a revolver and  his wits. He might not have even been superhuman. His body was quickly burnt after his death per a request in his wallet to preserve the mystery of his identity. Even his outfit was remarkably simple. He wore the trenchcoat and fedora combination that proved popular with turn-of-the-century “mystery men” like himself and to disguise himself he wore a hood that covered the top portion of his face and a fake moustache. Laughing Mask never wore a mask. He got his name from the constant eerie grin he wore no matter the danger-until a New Orleans hitman emptied his tommy gun into him in 1921.

 

Laughing Mask proved a popular superhero after his death. He gave posterity the impression that he was a simple, humble man who did whatever he could to combat crime in his city. His lasting popularity inspired cosmic menace and gamester Prime Mover to create a “chronal duplicate” of Laughing Mask during his game against supervillian and fellow gamester (and currently reformed gameshow host) Dicehead. Prime Mover called his game The War of Shadows and created chronal duplicates of superhumans from throughout time and space to engage in a war with one side chosen and led by himself and one side by Dicehead. He figured that if he used chronal duplicates of superhumans rather than the superhumans themselves in his bloody war the superheroes of Earth wouldn’t care and try to stop his game as they had done in the past (Prime Mover was never good at understanding human thought). Through Dicehead’s characteristic manipulation of the rules of the game (He argued that to keep the game from ending too soon death for a fighter could only occur if their home base on the other side of the battleground was first touched) he stalled Prime Mover long enough for the Society of Protectors to arrive and apprehend the cosmic menace. Because of Dicehead’s quick thinking none of the chronal duplicates were slain (and he was pardoned for his past crimes), and several superhumans, hero and villain alike, were “reborn” in modern times.

 

Finding himself in a strange new world and learning that he was dead and buried Laughing Mask did his best to create a new life for himself. He revealed that his name was David Manley and that he had slightly enhanced physicality as a superpower. He became a historian as a way to help him catch up with all the history he missed and organized a support network for the other chronal duplicates created for The War of Shadows. His network has expanded to take in people, superhuman or otherwise, who suffer identity issues through the result of cosmic meddling-time travelers, people with retroactive histories, people exiled from alternate timelines, and anyone else that find they don’t belong in current history. Acknowledging David Manley as Laughing Mask or close enough to stop saying that he was dead the Smithsonian took down his name and gave David Manley the sign.

 

Although officially retired from superheroics Laughing Mask recently had a team-up with the reborn Radio King, their first team-up in over a century.

 

Finally the Hall of Remembrance and Memorial was named after Sanford Quest…who never took a superhero name. Sanford Quest was a mildly enhanced superhuman with mild supergenius intellect and mild superhuman strength. Sanford Quest never wore a disguise and never took an alias. Sanford Quest died of a car accident just a month after Laughing Mask met his end in New Orleans. Sanford Quest seemingly was a rather unexceptional superhero who fought your run of the mill gangsters and criminals and died a mundane kind of death.

 

And leaked documents revealed that he worked for the early FBI under J Edgar Hoover.

 

Dicehead’s casinos currently show odds of his return in the next decade at 3 to 1.

 

“But isn’t that hall known for being the only hall in the museum to have gotten smaller over time?” Rob asked.

 

“That is besides the point Rob!” Ms. Cryptic answered the boy’s question sharply. “Death is not a revolving door! Death is not a toy to be played with! Death is…” Ms. Cryptic struggled to find the right words. “Death is…”

 

“Death is final.” The Haunter said. “Even when a miracle happens and you revive, the world has changed during the time you spend dead. Life goes on without you.” Her sad, stern eyes transfixed the children. “There is a finality within death. There is a bitter end to things within death that cannot be avoided.”

 

“Ms. Adams?” A child asked. “Ms. Adams? Have you ever…died?” The child whispered.

 

“No. But I have known the dead.”

 

What is the importance of superhero team names?

 

“Anyway!” Ms. Cryptic quickly clapped her hands together to get the children’s attention. That was more than enough discussion about the seriousness of death. “Now let’s answer Michael’s question! Why are they called the Dead of Night? Well, they’re called the Dead of Night because they are psychopomps-guides and guardians for spirits of the deceased-who work for the King of Nightland, a powerful psychic who created his own afterlife in the 1970’s called er…Nightland.”

 

“So I get the “of Night” part.” Michael said. “But none of them were ever actually dead. None of them were ever even “dead-but-not-really-dead”. The exhibit itself says that they’re all still alive and still protecting Nightland.”

 

“Their team name is meant to represent what they fight for, not necessarily what they are.”

 

“Okayyyyy…” Michael responded hesitantly. “I’m not getting it.”

 

“Superheroes create their team names for all sorts of reasons.” Ms. Cryptic replied. “Sometimes it’s just a fairly literal if slightly boastful description of what the team members are. We see this in the venerable Society of Protectors-that’s their exhibit over there by the way, the one with the giant fabulously glowing starfish by the way-and with Fabulous Five. But teams have also named themselves after ideals and vows. Exodus was a team of space faring superheroes that protected the United Armada during their migration from Bloodclan controlled planets to a neutral planet called Asheruh. They weren’t apart of the United Armada’s exodus. They came from Earth and when the United Armada established viable colonies on Asheruh they returned to their lives Earth. But the exodus was their mission, and so they took the name Exodus.”

 

“Is there an Exodus exhibit anywhere?” Another boy asked looking around. “They sound sort of neat.”

 

“Unfortunately not at the Smithsonian.” Ms. Cryptic said.  “There is only so much space inside a museum after all. But there is an exhibit on the Exodus up in the Thea International space station. I highly recommend you children taking the interway and visiting Thea sometime. It has so many wonderful museums and galleries!”

 

“I’ve been there once.” A boy said. “The best part was this huge wall like a giant honeycomb with all these different windows. All the windows were pointed at Earth but every window had a different overlay so Earth always looked different depending on which window you looked through.”

 

“I’ve been there to!” A girl added. “I remember what you’re talking about! My favorite window was the one that showed little lights where all the cats on Earth lived. I think I saw the light for my cat Snackers!”

 

“My favorite was the window that showed twelve noon moving across the face of the planet like a giant finger.” Another girl said. “If you watched it closely you could see it move!”

 

“Good, good!” Miss Cryptic said waving her hands above the children. “Very good! I want you all to have an appreciation for these museums and galleries. There are so many around the world and so few have ever visited them. If you take any one thing from today’s field trip let it be a love of museums. But to move this along let’s return to the original question: What is a superhero?”

 

Does the term “superhero” actually have any meaning?

 

“I can answer that.” A bright but rather cynical boy named Adam stated. “It’s whoever the people in charge say is a superhero.”

 

“Now why would you say that Adam?” Ms. Cryptic asked.

 

“Because it’s true.” Adam said. “Who is considered a superhero and who isn’t a superhero has always been up to the people in charge. That’s why the definition keeps changing. That’s why they keep taking people out and putting them back in like John Carter and Lord Greystoke. Whoever people like at the moment is a superhero and whoever they don’t can just take a hike.”

 

“So are you saying Adam that there are no characteristics or qualities that determine whether or not someone is a superhero?”

 

“Nope! Not when people keep changing them. I mean, it’s not as if superhumans are born with a stamp on their head saying whether or not they’re a superhero. People invented the name superhero. People decide what it means.”

 

“So do you think the word has no meaning?”

 

Adam shrugged. “It’s a meaningless word. I mean it has to be.”

 

“Not necessarily.” Ms. Cryptic replied. “People invented all the names Adam. Just because the meaning of a name changes over time doesn’t mean it’s meaningless. In fact if the meaning of a word changes based on the context it’s used in then we could say that the word has more meaning, not less, right?.”

 

“I don’t know about that Ms. Cryptic. That doesn’t seem right to me.”

 

“Think of it this way: if you had a tool you could use in several different ways like for instance a knife we would say that the tool was useful, not useless. The same is true for words. You just need to understand the different uses of a word. You just need to understand the historical and cultural context in which one form of a word is considered better than others. And what better place to explore that context than a museum?” Ms. Cryptic threw her arms out wide at all the assembled wonder.

 

“But its not just that what “superhero” means varies by time and culture.” Adam replied. “I’ve done some reading on superheros, I know people have different ideas about them. LIke in Japan they have different ideas about public registries for superheroes and their use of lethal force, stuff like that. I get that. And I’ve read up on history. I know our own ideas about superheros have changed. But even here and now people can’t keep straight who is and isn’t a superhero.”

 

“That is a very interesting point Adam.” Ms. Cryptic said. “Class, isn’t that an interesting point Adam just made? That it’s not just that the definition of superhero has changed over time and across cultures, it’s that even in our current culture “superhero” means many things?”

 

Ms. Cryptic observed with no small satisfaction that most of the class nodded in reply and were following the conversation.

 

“I suppose you’d say that having the word mean so many things makes it more useful, but I just don’t see it like that teacher. I see it like…like…” Adam hesitated and struggled to think of the best words to say. Normally his conversations with his teachers didn’t go like this. Normally they just told him to be quiet or they didn’t have time to answer him or just ignored him.

 

But Ms. Cryptic talked back to him. She made him make him stop and consider his words. Only Mr. Siegel had done that for him before.Those two were the only teachers that made him think.

 

Adam appreciated that. He appreciated that very, very much.

 

“Go on Adam.” Ms. Cryptic urged.

 

“Well I don’t want to get in trouble for disagreeing with you too much teacher…”

 

“Oh think nothing of it! None of you should ever feel like you shouldn’t disagree with your teacher, even if that teacher is me.” Ms. Cryptic said to the children. “You should be respectful and polite, yes. But you’ll find in life that you’ll often disagree with those in authority over you, those that are supposed to know more than you do and be responsible for more things than you are. But you shouldn’t ever be afraid of disagreeing with them. Authority does not make a person right. Being right makes a person right.”

 

Adam smiled. “Mr. Siegel told me something like that. It’s why he’s my favorite teacher of all time…er, tied with yourself of course Ms. Cryptic.”

 

Ms. Cryptic chuckled. Her laughter sounded like several crickets chirping at once. “I’m quite honored to be tied for favorite teacher after just one lesson! Now tell us how you see it Adam.”

 

The children turned from their teacher to Adam.

 

“Well…I see the name “superhero” as…a bunch of holes frankly..”

 

“Go on.” Ms. Cryptic gave a calm nod to encourage the boy. “Continue.”

 

Adam nodded back, thought for a few more seconds, took a breathe, and then spoke.