I volunteered to paint faces at the children’s Christmas party hosted by my company. I enjoyed it, but it was strangely intense because the line of children never ended until the party was over, and, while painting, the parents scrutinize your every move. I also felt a mild competition with the other face painters who I was certain were more talented than I am. That combined with having to bend forward for two straight hours while painting a squirming child’s face left me exhausted. I am not very good at it, but the children were, by and large, thrilled with the result.
Two children were not happy. One was just a toddler, and she became frightened when I drew close enough to touch her, and she screamed at the first flick of the paint brush. She acted as if I was the uncle who got drunk at family parties and said inappropriate things, but there is no way she could know that about me, so I don’t think that was the problem; it was just a coincidence. The resulting candy cane was pathetic and resembled my finger painting work done in my preschool period.
The other was a boy, about ten years old, who requested a Batman cowl. When I showed him my progress, he realized I had no idea what I was doing, and also that he was screwed, because you just don’t rub black paint off of your face and walk away like nothing ever happened. I offered to paint his entire face black like he was in a minstrel, but then retracted the idea with a casual laugh because I couldn’t tell if his mother was cool enough to understand the uber-irony of the political incorrectness of painting an innocent child’s face like he was in a minstrel.
In spite of those setbacks, it occurred to me that face painting would be an interesting power for a super hero. When someone needed to be cheered up, call on Face Painting Man. When there was a party that was doomed to boredom, call on Face Painting Man. When there was something you needed, but didn’t know what, and thought that a small design on your cheek might help, and definitely wouldn’t make things any worse than they already were, call on Face Painting Man.
Face Painting Man himself would always have a different design on his face, and so that would be part of his power. People in need would know that, if Face Painting Man showed up, it would be with a new and exotic picture, tightly integrated with his own features. The general public would look favorably on Face Painting Man because he was always making clever designs and executing them with care and skill, and almost never left a child in black face.
That’s kind of how I was at the children’s Christmas Party: Face Painting Man. Champion of the meek, defender of the pale, decorator of the undecorated, and dedicated to brightening the lives of children twelve and under using non-toxic paint and inoffensive designs. “No need to thank me, hot mom; making your boring child happy is thanks enough.”
There would be two other face painting super heroes: Face Painting Woman and Face Painting Boy. Face Painting Woman and Face Painting Man would admire each other, and respect each other’s work, but their relationship would remain strictly professional because to give in to their attraction for each other would put the public at risk. Face Painting Woman would also be really hot, and would sometimes paint her costume on her body, and she would be so good at it that you’d have to get really close to her to realize she wasn’t wearing any clothes. But of course no one ever would get that close to Face Painting Woman. Even the children she painted would be totally oblivious. The dads would fantasize, but they’re going to do that whether she’s wearing clothes or not.
Face Painting Boy would be this quirky kid that always admired Face Painting Man, and couldn’t wait until he was old enough to leave home and help defend the pale, etc., because he thought Face Painting Man was the greatest thing since sliced pickles. (The kid is quirky, right?) He might go astray sometimes, and try his hand at graffiti, but Face Painting Man would be all patient and understanding, and would help bring him back around to serving the public good, rather than hiring himself out to gangs to mark territory on the side of buildings.
I realize Face Painting Man is serving only a very small of society that has a very specific need, and would therefore not compete well against the traditional superheroes with all their strength, speed, and ability to fly. (Well, he’d still be better than The Green Hornet, but I don’t want to get bogged down in that argument.) The prime directive of super heroes is: “First, do no harm.” Assuming that Face Painting Man never poked a child in the eye with his paint brush, I think he would have a legitimate claim to serving the public good.