It’s kind of impossible to have a story with so much imminent death and not explore the idea of finding one’s purpose. Mortality in general pushes us to find a meaning in our existence, of course, but the hyper-condensed lifespan of the Morituri heightens this drive. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the person of Robert Greenbaum – Marathon.
In most other books, Robert would have been the lovable, big, protective lug. Even in Strikeforce: Morituri he plays that role as the series begins. In that fairly brief period, he’s content to be The Big Guy who lets other folks do the thinking and tries to keep everyone safe. But after first Lorna, then Harold, fall to the ravages of the process these young folks have undergone, it becomes clear that there is no more time to be complacent. With so very little time left to live, Marathon begins in earnest to seek out his purpose, to find that moment which might give his life and his sacrifices meaning.
Like a lot of young people, he falters in that quest. He tries to go out in a fighting blaze of glory, but while there is much blazing, Robert’s clumsy attempts send him quite literally plummeting back to Earth. To be sure, it’s an epic fall.
And, unlike those normal humans who were subject to the “Highdive” previously, Robert miraculously survives. But in surviving, he finds himself faltering even further. He was the big one. The strong one. Surely he was meant to die in bloody battle? And yet, here he is, largely unscathed. Having no scars, or rather showing none, Robert seems to feel the need to make it clear exactly what he is. This, I think, is what leads to the rather unique method by which Robert marks himself. It’s as if he believes that what he needs to finally be a hero is a scar, a mark that screams “I matter.”
Here’s the thing: Robert’s struggle with purpose isn’t exclusive to him any more than genius is only Harold’s, or faith belongs solely to Jelene. It’s just that I think Robert provides a really focused example of the exploration of this particular theme in the series.
The nature of Robert’s powers is one of the things that I think makes him such a good candidate for exploring this notion of purpose. He’s strong and tough like all the Morituri, but Robert’s own physical might is far in excess of that of his teammates. Indeed, as Gillis clarifies a few issues in, Robert’s strength actually builds, but only for as long as he chooses not to use that strength.
It’s one of the odd things about that bridge from childhood to adulthood, when you wander into the middle ground, when you can see there might be an endgame, and it becomes dreadfully hard not to rush toward it. I don’t think Gillis is by any means suggesting that people sit on their backsides and wait for the world to serve up their destinies. This is a story about people who are living with the constant reality of their mortality; time is precious, and shouldn’t be squandered.
But that doesn’t mean it’s all a race, either.
It’s precarious, to be sure, and Robert’s up-and-down attempts to find the right time, to prepare himself to seize his moment, make that clear. But when Robert holds back, when he finally, fully steps back and not only waits, but watches1, he gathers the power he’s been after. Fulfills his purpose. Finds his moment.
And finally, finally, has that painful, bittersweet piece of meaning he’s been chasing for so very long.
1. I think this is another reason for Robert’s tattoo. Yes, he wants to be seen, but also — whether consciously or not — he’s discovering that finding one’s moment requires a special level of vision, as well.[back]