ELECTRON BOY - A SUPERHERO FOR OUR TIMES
Erik Martin loves superheroes and action figures.
That's why he became one.
And that's why he has millions of fans and friends all over the world.
He began collecting those friends on April 29, when his secret identity as Electron Boy was revealed in a spectacular trifecta of rescues performed in Seattle and Bellevue.
He sped around the Seattle area in a shiny gold DeLorean driven by his guardian of goodness "Moonshine Maid," complete with a 25-car police escort, closed freeways and hundreds of people lining the streets with signs urging him on.
With his partner "Lighting Lad" they battled Dr. Dark and Blackout Boy at Puget Sound Energy, rescued the Seattle Sounders soccer team from their locker room at Qwest Field and used his lighting rod to save the day from the bad guys at the Space Needle.
Captured in words by the Seattle Times and by TV and video cameras, his exploits went viral - a half million hits on the Seattle Times web site, and an Electron Boy fan page on Facebook with 11,000 fans.
There's a 30 minute video on the web, complete with an Electron Boy theme song. A movie is being discussed. He received a key to the city of Seattle, a golden scarf from the Seattle Sounders signifying great achievement and commemoration in the record of the U.S. House of Representatives.
And, of course, every superhero needs a comic book. Rob Bass of Austin Texas and some of his friends spontaneously decided to do a comic book of his exploits. They have done a prototype - described as "cool" by the Superhero himself. They hope to mass produce it soon to spread the word of his deeds.
Erik described the day of his exploits as "the best day of my life." Asked recently what he thought was the was the best part of that day, the shy superhero simply said "the gold DeLorean" - and being able to take a nap between rescues.
Not to worry. As Bass wrote in his description accompanying the comic book: "Any concerns about Erik not having enough power to make it through the day proved unfounded as he capered about the plaza in front of the Space Needle afterward, posing for pictures, flexing his muscles and spending some time perched atop a Bellevue PD motorcycle gazing out upon the city that he had protected. Electron Boy had given him all the energy he needed."
At first glance, Erik might seem to be an unlikely candidate for superhero status.
He was sick from the day he was born in 1996 with serious heart problems which were still present six weeks later when he came to live with Jeremy and Judy Martin, Bellevue foster parents who care for kids with medical problems.
Jeremy, "Jerry" to friends, had a great job at Boeing and was active on the ski patrol. Judy was feeling a bit bored. She recalls thinking that the thing she was best at was being a mom. She decided she wanted to foster children with medical needs. She got her wish. 30 some-odd children later, Jerry is retired, Judy is no longer bored and three of the kiddos "just stuck around." One of them was Erik, for whom they are guardians.
"I love them," Erik told them when asked what he would say about his parents. And with true super hero graciousness, he says of his older brother Juan, "I like him because he doesn't beat me up."
The Martin Family
Erik has battled cancer for some time, including 13 hours on an operating table two years ago. The doctors thought Erik had beaten it, until Jerry and Judy got the news earlier this year that his cancer was back and it was inoperable.
Enter the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Not wanting a trip anywhere or to meet anyone famous, he simply wanted to be a superhero. So he designed his own costume, complete with the big letter E which stands for Electron Boy, but which is, of course, the first letter of his other identity. Jesse Ellenbaas and the Make-A-Wish team put together the incredible events that transformed Erik into Electron Boy.
In his every day identity, he looks in many ways like a typical 13 (almost 14)-year old boy. Except for the long tubes connected to the oxygen tank, he doesn't look sick.
He has an interest in attractive girls. Erik and his brother Juan were out in public and some teen-age girls asked Juan if he was Electron Boy. He said, "I'm his brother" and was able to reap some of the residual benefits of being adored by the female teen-age superhero set.
Jerry says Erik is a real clown once he gets to know people. He and Erik were clowning around and Erik said something that led Jerry to ask" So are you saying I'm old? Quick as the blink of an eye, Erik said, 'if the walker fits, use it,' his dad said.
When asked who he would like to save if he could do it again, he said, "I would like to rescue Freddie Ljungberg from the Chicago Fire,'' referring to the former Seattle Sounders soccer player who left Seattle for the Chicago team mid-season. He met Erik in the hospital.
His design of the costume came from his passion. "I like to draw and play with action figures," he said, drawing a picture for a visitor of his favorite action hero, Ben 10, who can use a device to turn into 10 different aliens and gives him super powers.
Ben 10 proves there are different kinds of super powers, as does Erik. It's more than saving people in a physical sense. Super heroes strike chords with people.
He's literally become an international celebrity, with the-mails, Facebook posts, items sent to his house and television interviews from around the world. Jerry said Electron Boy and his story have touched and inspired people at a very deep level, reaching into a yearning encoded in the human DNA as far back as recorded history.
"There is the story of the Hero's Journey, which has been told by human beings for thousands of years," Jerry said. "People have a need for stories about a hero's journey. What has happened here is the collision of that thousands-of-years-old story with the new social media." While the event was occurring, his niece was tweeting about it from England.
He also puts it this way: "People have written that when they think they are having a tough day or things are tough for them, they can look at what this young man is going through and think they don't have it so bad - if he can do it, so can I. It gives them the strength to carry on.
His dad continues: "What a legacy he leaves. People will be talking about him for a long, long time. Some kids get sick and die and no one ever knows. They will always know about Electron Boy. He will touch so many lives."
Bass echoed a similar theme in his comic book description: "What (the event) proved, right there where anybody could see it, pure objective truth, that our imaginations are pure and boundless and can take us anywhere that we let them, no matter how much these bodies might fail us, … you can overcome all that, because you still have the power to do anything, become just who you've always dreamed of becoming."
And as for the super hero's parents? They don't see themselves that way.
"We're not heroes. People say that to Judy and she just says, 'I'm not a hero, I'm a mom.' "
But for all of us, there is a hero's journey to be found in what Jerry and Judy have done with so many kids.
With Erik, they brought him into their home and hearts when he was a very ill and very frail six-week-old baby and over the course of his life have watched and worried over this incredibly resilient and demonstrably caring young boy.
But they also had a role model to inspire them. Electron Boy was not the first superhero to be raised by someone other than the people who brought him into the world. After all, Superman had foster parents too.
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