Does every little kid, at some point, want to be a superhero?
I love superheroes. When given the opportunity, I still like to read comic books. I’ve always wanted to go see the movies, even before they turned into the new Western and EVERYONE saw them. If I stumble across a good superhero cartoon ( or even-semi entertaining) I want to watch it. When I was little, I would try to make up what kind of superhero I would be. Hell, I still do that now. That’s not too weird, right?
I love the DC and Marvel canon, though I’m a little hard pressed to say what I like more. Maybe a little more Marvel since it always seemed to exist a little closer to the real world. Then again, DC always sparked my imagination a little more. So I don’t know. Hey, I said it was hard! No, you shut up!
One of the things I’ve come to think as an adult is that superhero stories are a lot like a more modern folklore. I definitely think that the heroes of ancient myth are like the superheroes of today. Actually, in some cases (hi, Thor) they are the same hero.
I don’t think I’ll spend much time talking about why I think other people like (or don’t like) superheroes. But maybe if I talk about what I like and why, it will make sense to you. I already feel like this is a topic I can spend a lot of time with, but I like to keep these posts from being too long. And this is a topic I can talk about for AWHILE. So I will probably come back to this. For now, I’ll stick with a few “franchise players” of the superhero world.
BATMAN: Let’s just start with the obvious. Batman is a badass, plain and simple. Individuals with a lot more sheer power are wary of Batman. Why? It doesn’t have much to do with the cool tech. It has a lot more to do with the fact that this is a normal man who pushed himself to the absolute limit. He is about as mentally and physically honed as a mere mortal can be. Yes, he is dangerously obsessed with his personal war on crime. He will never have a remotely normal life. He often alienates himself from those that would help him. He is dangerous. I can’t think of a psychiatrist who wouldn’t love to pick at this guy’s head. But at the end of the day, Batman is very human. I’ve read story lines with Batman helping children, grieving over friends, and sacrificing more of himself to make sure others don’t have to see what he has seen. It makes him all the more heroic.
On a side note, out of all the movies and TV versions, my favorite Batman is Kevin Conroy. The 90’s animated series is just great, and I think the Arkham video games have been some of the best Batman “movies” in recent years.
THE HULK: I love the Hulk. He is one of my absolute favorite characters and always has been. I always identified with the Jekyll and Hyde meets Frankenstein that is Bruce Banner/the Hulk. Here is a guy who is smart but is constantly having to repress himself. He has this other side that is all primal, emotional, explosion. The Hulk has on many occasions been an accidental hero, stopping the bad guy while trying to get away from whatever made him angry in the first place. Banner wants to connect with people, but he is always a little withdrawn for fear of the Hulk coming out. As for the Hulk, most of the time he just wants to be left alone. Still, if he sees someone as a friend, he’ll fight for them with everything he has.
The Hulk is not your basic good guy, but there is definitely more hero than monster to him. But let’s be honest. Who out there hasn’t wanted to let loose that way? Who hasn’t wished that they could respond to something with “Hulk smash” and have that be okay? That’s absolutely part of his appeal.
Speaking of your basic good guy….
SUPERMAN: This is a tough one. I’ve always preferred Superman within the context of the Justice League versus his solo stories. I think the character works better when he has other heroes to interact with. The thing about Superman is that he easily goes to extremes. He is often either the flying Boy Scout or a god with little depth. Attempts to make the character “gritty” haven’t often worked. But when you focus on Superman’s humanity, things get interesting.
I thought the TV show “Smallville” did a great job with this, in addition to making the whole stupid Superboy concept believable. While Bruce Wayne is the secret identity of Batman, Superman is the secret identity of Clark Kent. He is a man who wants to do the right thing. He is unwavering in his belief that his powers should be used to help people. At the same time, he has to live with the knowledge that he can’t help everyone. He sets a standard. He gives hope. But when he fails (which is rare) he takes it really hard. Still, Clark will put the cape back on and try again. He will be Superman. He will be that symbol of hope that people look for. How can I not respect that?
SPIDER-MAN: I will close this post by focusing on Spidey. He is another of my lifelong favorites, which I find a little funny seeing how I am a bit arachnophobic. I think one of the things that attracts me to Peter Parker/Spider-Man is that he might be the most imperfect superhero out there.
This is a guy who messes up a lot, both as Peter and as Spider-Man. He has problems with relationships. He doesn’t always stop the bad guy. He tries to protect a city that doesn’t completely trust him. And the sheer level of loss that Spider-Man has experienced is staggering. Friends, allies, and loved ones have all been taken from him over the years. He still fights the good fight. He still keeps his sense of humor. He hasn’t let it break him.
Maybe it goes back to the line. I think at this point, EVERYONE knows the line. Say it with me. “With great power comes great responsibility.” Peter could very easily be a criminal. He could be the menace that some of his fellow New Yorkers claim he is. But instead, he uses his power to make things better for the people in his world. In the end, he is doing what I think a lot of people try to do. He does what I try to do. Spider-Man goes out there and does the best he can with who he is. He takes his mistakes, and tries to use them to be just a little better. He does what he can to make a positive difference.
Everyday, Spider-Man tries to be a better person than he was the day before. I think we should all be doing the same.