April 14, 2011
The story of The Standard has taken us through several decades, and in that time the life of Gilbert Graham went through many dramatic changes. But through all this life-altering upheaval, there remained one constant: Caroline Cole. The story of The Standard has been described in many terms by historians over the years, but few have recognised the undeniable fact that it is also a love story.
Caroline Cole was a wealthy socialite, daughter of millionaire business tycoon Seymour Cole. Given the high-flying social circles she moved in, it’s uncertain how exactly she met scientist Gilbert Graham in the first place. Perhaps it was meant to be. But however they first met, upon forming an acquaintance the pair quickly became an item. The romance initially had difficulties reaching the next level, however, given that Gilbert’s first love seemingly remained his work. It is said that Gilbert would often work in his laboratory late into the night, forgetting about planned dates with Caroline. Then that fateful meteorite hit the lab, turning Gilbert Graham into The Standard, and things got a lot more interesting.
At several points in his early career, The Standard had occasion to rescue Caroline Cole from some form of danger or another. It is around this time, so the story goes, that Caroline broke off her relationship with Gilbert, having fallen madly in love with his masked alter ego, The Standard, blissfully unaware that they were the same person. Desperate to win his love back, Gilbert resumed the relationship with her under the guise of The Standard, and so Caroline quickly found herself gaining fame as “The Standard’s girlfriend.” With this increased status came increased risk, and on a few occasions supervillains – most often Zachary Zarthos – would try to attack or kidnap Caroline to gain The Standard’s attention.
Perhaps it was all these threats to her life, or perhaps it was all the public scrutiny, but for whatever reason, a little under 30 years ago Caroline Cole ended her storybook romance with The Standard… and returned to her first love, Gilbert Graham. Shortly afterwards, the two were married. Gilbert and Caroline Graham remain a married couple to this day.
There is much speculation about how long exactly Caroline Cole has known the truth about the two great loves of her life being the same person. Some like to think that she only found out after marrying Gilbert, but comments Alex Thomas have made suggest that she was already aware of Gilbert’s secret when he first adopted Alex. A few have even proposed that Caroline always knew, and that her “breaking up” with Gilbert was a plan the pair concocted to avert suspicion from The Standard often being around to rescue Caroline whenever she was in danger. Nobody knows for sure, though, apart from Gilbert and Caroline themselves. And they aren’t spilling the beans.
Gilbert and Caroline never had children. Rumors that the meteoric particles that gave Gilbert his incredible powers also left him infertile remain unproven. But in every other way, the couple had a happy ending. Together before, during and after Gilbert Graham’s superhero career, Caroline Graham is a bigger part of Gilbert’s life than The Standard ever was.
April 5, 2011
On my very first post for this blog, I said that this wasn’t a blog about Alex Thomas, and that Gilbert Graham – the original Standard – was going to be the focus. But it seems that for the past week or so our focus has been on Alex, and I have quite a bit more to say about the current state of superheroes in the blogs to come. So, it might be best to take this time to return to Gilbert Graham, and discuss how the developments spotlighted in recent blogs impacted him.
One key point that should not be overlooked is that Alex Thomas’s decision to publicly unmask not only changed his life forever, but also Gilbert Graham’s. For in revealing that he was The Standard, he also made it incredibly obvious that Gilbert – Alex’s legal guardian through his childhood years – was The Standard before him. Gilbert had retired from the hero business, hoping to enjoy a quiet life. Instead, the spotlight of the world was now on him, publicly exposed as the world’s first superhero. Despite all the fame and fortune Alex Thomas going public has brought him, it will always remained tarnished by this act of selfishness. For while he may have made the decision to unmask himself, Gilbert Graham never had a say in the matter.
When Gilbert had returned from Vietnam and been honourably discharged from military service, he still could not find funding as a scientist. This prompted a shift in career, with him becoming a Chemistry teacher at Sky City High School. This is a job he has now held for over 30 years, one which he carried on with past hanging up the cape, and even now continues on with despite having passed the usual age of retirement. Perhaps it is because he is much hardier and healthier than most men of his age, or perhaps it is because no one wants to say no to The Standard, but whatever the reason, he’s been allowed to carry on doing what he apparently loves without impediment.
Teaching remains Gilbert’s primary source of income. When the floods of magazine deals, interview offers and royalty checks came flooding in his direction after everyone and their dog figured out he was the original Standard, he turned them all down. To this day, he has never made a penny off his tenure as The Standard. And he remains notoriously publicity shy. He has never done any official interviews with the media since his secret was revealed. However, he is by no means a mean-spirited recluse. Unofficially, it has been reported that he is happy to talk about his superhero days with curious passers-by, and is always gracious enough to sign an autograph or pose for a photo with any fan that might approach him.
One concern voiced among some was that the revelation that Gilbert Graham had once been The Standard might provoke some attack on him at his home or his place of work – either by an old villain acting in retaliation or a new villain wanting to make a name for themselves – but that never happened. Zachary Zarthos was the one people most feared would strike at Gilbert, but as mentioned earlier, Zarthos never left prison after The Standard retired. Some speculate that it could have been the unmasking that took the wind out of his sails once and for all. Because when you had a name and a face to match to the idea of The Standard, when he could be seen as just a man, then some intangible quality is lost.
It is a poorly kept secret that Gilbert Graham and Alex Thomas have become estranged, and haven’t spoke to each other in years. Was the rift down to Alex publicly outing him as The Standard? Or is it something bigger, perhaps Gilbert’s disapproval of what The Standard has become in his absence?
I’ll be spending the rest of this week looking at the Standard fan culture that has emerged in recent years, and next week I’ll be looking at the related issue of how superheroes have changed in modern times. I hope you’ll join me!
March 25, 2011
This should be a shorter piece today, a little epilogue to what we’ve been talking about over the course of this week. We’re approaching 40 years since the Vietnam War ended, but now America is once more at war, this time in Iraq and Afghanistan. A different time, a different war, and as it turns out, a different Standard. How does this Standard’s response compare to Gilbert Graham’s all those decades ago?
Like Gilbert Graham, Alex Thomas has taken no direct involvement in the War on Terror. But unlike Gilbert, this decision has been faced with little controversy. What has changed? Vietnam changed a lot of things, not least how the US Army and its foreign campaigns are perceived by the American public. As mentioned before, Gilbert Graham was vindicated for his decision to keep The Standard separate from the conflict, and so now more people can appreciate the thinking behind today’s Standard taking the same stance. This is a deeply unpopular war, and many would say they don’t even want the soldiers over there, never mind additional superheroes.
But there could be another factor at play, in the differing response. Back in the 1960s, The Standard was revered. He almost instantly became an icon, ingrained into the very fabric of American culture. He was one of its leading citizens, operating on a level distinct from any public servant or politician. As such, his stance for or against a war carried weight, it meant something. But now? The Standard remains popular, certainly, with Alex Thomas just as beloved as Gilbert Graham, if not more so. But it is different. His actions would be more likely to be compared with those of a famous actor or musician, with us not expecting him to actively engage in events on the world stage anymore than we would expect Lady Gaga or Tom Cruise to go to war.
We look at our superheroes differently now. Getting to why that is the case will be a long process, but it begins with Alex Thomas. So starting from next week, we’ll be taking a look at his path to replacing Gilbert Graham as The Standard, beginning with the story of Fabu-Lad.
March 24, 2011
Much has been said over the decades about The Standard’s stance of non-intervention in The Vietnam War. But there is a second side to this story, one that has received less coverage, but is just as – if not more – significant in grasping an understanding of The Standard’s motivations. We discussed earlier what The Standard’s response to Vietnam was, but what about Gilbert Graham?
At the time he first became The Standard, Gilbert Graham had been working as a scientist, doing advanced chemical research. As The Vietnam War wore on and the Tet Offensive got underway, at the same time as The Standard was facing public pressure to fight for his country, Gilbert Graham was commissioned by the Government to develop chemical weapons for the US Army to disperse in Vietnam. Dr. Graham refused, fearing the terrible, long-ranging consequences such attacks could have on the people of Vietnam for generations to come: in this regard too, history would eventually prove him right. But his refusal to cooperate cost Gilbert his job, and for a time, some degree of public disgrace. With the shaming he got in the press as a traitor and possible Communist sympathiser who callously refused to help the US Army, he could not find work anywhere in the field again. It reached a point where he was even mentioned by acting Senator at the time, George McColl:
It shows a distinctly shameful breed of cowardice to have within your means the ability to aid your fellow countrymen, and instead do nothing. Gilbert Graham sits safely at home while young Americans die on the other side of the world, and he spares not a thought for them.
Gilbert was reportedly very shaken by this condemnation, yet for some time never spoke out in detail about why he was supposedly abandoning his countrymen to die unaided. And so the Senator’s jibes were, for most people, the last word on Gilbert Graham and his involvement in Vietnam.
But that is not the whole story. For many months later, when any notoriety he may have gained had died down, Gilbert Graham quietly enlisted, and was dispatched to Vietnam, serving for three tours of duty. Gilbert has never spoken of his time in Vietnam, so his motives can only be speculated on. But if this historian were to speculate, he would suggest that perhaps though he could not abuse his status as The Standard or his skills as a scientist in affecting the outcome of the conflict, and despite any objections he may have had to the validity of America’s involvement in the war, Gilbert Graham could not allow people to die while he did nothing. It is in his nature to help people, to make a difference and do good wherever he can. It’s what made him become The Standard in the first place. With the moral quandary he was in, the most he could do was simply be there with the young men fighting for their country: no chemical weapons, no superpowers, just him.
Here is one final footnote to this story, perhaps the most astonishing detail of all. All through this time while Gilbert Graham was serving in Vietnam, the activity of The Standard back in Sky City, USA went on undiminished. He could not abandon his countrymen like Senator McColl had once accused him of doing, but neither could he abandon his city, and the icon of hope and compassion he had created in The Standard. The whole world thought that The Standard had made a choice between fighting for his country and being a hero that stood above war and politics. But in truth, he managed to do both.