We are in the midst of a pop culture craze. Superheroes! They are everywhere and we are all too disposed to give up our hard earned money to support them. Why do we love them so much? What is it about them that appeals to us?
I remember watching reruns of Batman on television. As silly as I thought that show was, I was captivated by Bruce Wayne and his alter ego. When Tim Burton made his version with Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader, I was upset that my parents deemed me too young to see it. I remember my older brothers talking about it when they came back from the theater; I was so jealous. I asked for a Batman costume. I got a cape, but hey, it was good enough. I proceeded to run and jump around my house fighting imaginary bad guys.
By the time I was in the sixth grade, I began collecting Marvel superhero trading cards. This led me to start creating my own heroes. My artistic talents have never extended to drawing or painting, so while I created a great story for my heroes, I never created the comic books I wanted.
As an adult, I have come to realize why I was (and still am) so enthralled with superheroes. Believe it or not, it's not the powers or cool costumes, or even the stories themselves. The reason that I and most of America (perhaps the world) love superheroes, is because they have power.
Superheroes are important in their worlds. They are depended upon by the masses for safety, security and even life itself. They have more power than celebrities or politicians, and are more revered than religious leaders or gurus. They have abilities and skills that are inconceivable by the average person and this makes them special. I think we would all like to feel that power and have the recognition that comes with it.
This is why we don't like our superheroes dying. That along with the financial incentive of keeping a comic running, means that even when heroes die, they tend to be resurrected in some way. When the power a superhero uses to save lives and meet out justice is taken away, we feel that power taken away from us.
This is also why super villains are also admired. They have the same special power that a hero has, but by definition, use it for evil or selfish reasons. They may even have the power to destroy the heroes we love.
Humans desire the power to save ourselves from whatever ails us. This power is not found within ourselves; at least not individually and rarely collectively. We therefore want for a hero to take these troubles away from us.
In the fictional worlds of superheroes, there are three types. The aliens, the gifted and the enhanced. Let's take a brief look at each and then see which appeals to us the most.
The aliens: Superman, Martian Manhunter, Thor, Silver Surfer, the majority of the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Green Lantern Corps, the Transformers, and let's not forget The Doctor. These are characters that come from other planets or galaxies. Their power is derived solely from the idea that on their home worlds, they are normal, but on Earth, they're special. They then take pity on us lowly humans and chose to protect us. Interestingly, there are many more extra-terrestrial villains in the comics, who use their special powers to destroy or conquer Earth.
The gifted: These are the normal folk who by some twist of fate are granted their powers. In most cases it permanently alters them. This includes all of the X-Men and other Marvel Universe mutants, Spider-man, Hulk, Daredevil, The Fantastic Four, Flash, Cyborg, The (human) Green Lanterns. It also includes those with supernatural gifts like Doctor Strange or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. These characters are popular because they play on the idea that if we were granted such gifts, we would be just like them.
The enhanced: The normal humans. There's nothing fundamentally different about these characters from the rest of humanity. It is genius, exceptional skill and talent, and technology which sets these heroes apart from the rest of us, as well as other superheroes. This is what I like best about them and why they are my favorite type of superhero.
Iron Man, Batman, Punisher, Green Arrow, Hawkeye, Black Widow and of course, Bond - James Bond are all heroes because they discipline themselves beyond that of the average human; even beyond the conditioning of top-notch athletes. They are intelligent and use their intelligence to gain assets and technology to assist them in their crusades against evil.
Steve Rogers (Captain America): "Big man, in a suit of armor… take that away, what are you?" Tony Stark (Iron Man): "Uh… a genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist."
(The same could be said for Bruce Wayne.)
They are human, but they strive to be better. They have not come from another planet or been chosen by fate, but have made themselves heroes.
I chose to look to these figures, among all those we worship as superheroes, as they are the most like any of us. What can we do with our time, talents and abilities? What could we accomplish with the right amount of self-discipline? If given the opportunity, would we choose to be heroes?