You should know, and probably do not, that there is a Hall of Justice in Washington. While the Hall's exact location must remain a secret, I can tell you that inside operates an extraordinary paramilitary force, monitoring threats against humankind that only the brave dare ever imagine. I can tell you, too, that there is a satellite suspended in synchronous orbit over New York City. Protected by a force-field powerful enough to repel a meteoroid the size of Antarctica, the satellite, like the Hall of Justice, is in the service of this extraordinary paramilitary force. And I can tell you that without this force there would today be no planet Earth as we have known it.

It was not long ago, for example, that this force thwarted an all-out nuclear attack launched simultaneously by the United States and the Soviet Union on one another--thwarted it not only in mid-flight but also with the satellite headquarters temporarily unglued from its synchronous orbit and hurtling over the curve of the moon. (For more, see Volume 1, Number 2, of "The Phantom Zone," from DC Comics.)

More than a bit of fiction is at work here. But if we are dealing with fiction, it does best to remember that the line between fiction and fact is often thin, for children thin as the horizon. And it would be folly to deny that such scenes are more and more the steady diet of our children, a vast smorgasbord of superhuman emigrees and dark doomsters who take the entire galaxy as their territorial imperative, doomsters whose sum total of compassion would fit on the point of a pin.

These are not the kind of menaces that can be defeated by practice. Natty Bumpo may have mastered the art of laying one bullet on top of another from 100 paces by firing off a few thousand rounds of them first, but you don't learn to slash through ICBMs by throwing your shoulder into one until it finally breaks up, even if time allowed. That way lies heartbreak, but that way lies something else too, I think: the beginning of the death of faith in sustained application.

The real lesson that the new menaces who inform our children's imaginations teach--their hidden agenda--is that dogged determination, the business of slogging through one's duty every day, avails nothing against them. They will yield only to the kinds of powers that are granted, not earned --granted in the fortunate bite of a radioactive spider, in the high good luck of being born on a Krypton a million light years away at the moment of its destruction. Perhaps that is only a reflection of a perverse higher reality, of a world hellbent on making the transition from solvable problems to insoluble ones, a world every year backing itself more deeply into a corner from release can only be granted, not earned. But the effect is more immediately profound, and most profound where children are concerned. A passion for leaping tall buildings in a single bound can fertilize the mind's soil, but a belief that only by leaping tall buildings can anything of lasting value be accomplished in an open-sesame to the mind's erosion.