Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | May 8, 2012

The Hero in Superhero

The week before I’m scheduled to write the Tuesday blog post for Author Chronicles (once every five weeks), I mentally toss around a number of topic ideas and decide on one. Like any other writer, however, I continuously observe the people and events around me, and by the time I sit down to write, some serendipitous occurrence — or more than one, in this case — often leads me in another direction, and I rarely write on the planned topic.

From the title of this post, you can probably guess that the primary influence on this choice of topic was last weekend’s record-breaking opening of Marvel’s the Avengers. My husband and I have long enjoyed superhero movies, and when we saw the movie preview months ago, we put it on our worth-watching list. No, we haven’t seen it yet. We no longer feel the urgency to rush to get tickets for the opening day or weekend, but we will definitely make a trip to the theater to see the film … in a couple weeks.

This delay isn’t just because my husband and I prefer to avoid the crowds, however, but because my college-attending youngest son asked if we would see the movie with him and his girlfriend (who lives three hours away) when she comes to visit us. Whether it’s nurture or nature, we’ve raised three superhero fans. And the older two have gifted us with a son-in-law and daughter-in-law who also enjoy superhero movies. In fact, my daughter called Sunday evening to tell me that she and her husband had planned to take their kids to see Marvel’s the Avengers — my grandson is an avid superhero fan — but had been unable to get tickets because the movie theater had sold out, something unheard of in their small town.

So, the opening of the movie and the discussions of it with my children got me thinking about superheroes.

My children’s exposure to superheroes comes chiefly through movies and television. As for me, while I can’t claim to be a die-hard comic nerd (I’d fail miserably in any trivia contest), I did read a lot superhero comics books in high school. No matter how you become acquainted with them, however, there’s something about superheroes — Superman, Spiderman, the Fantastic Four, the Flash, the Green Lantern, Aquaman, and all the rest — that fascinates. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to fly or breath underwater or become invisible?

As I considered the allure of superheroes — evidently widespread, if superhero movie success is any indicator — I wondered whether the interest stems mainly from their super abilities. Imagine that you could become invisible. What fun it would be to slip in and out of places unseen, to overhear your children’s or coworkers’ conversations, to walk up to someone and suddenly appear. When you seriously imagine all the things you could do with the power of invisibility, you have to admit that the temptation to use it to annoy people or to spy on people or to steal would be powerful.

So, no, I don’t think superheroes are popular because of their special abilities. After all, superheroes’ opponents often have super powers as well. While the super abilities add zest to the action in a movie or comic, we really love superheroes because of the second part of that term — because they are heroes and because we can relate to their humanity.

Superheroes are people. People with extraordinary powers, yes, but still, at the core, people like us. Their spectacular abilities do not exempt them from having plugged up toilets, annoying bosses, or relationship problems (which their abilities often make more complicated). Many of our favorite superheroes were initially reluctant superheroes, as well. They gained their powers through some chance or accident and struggled with accepting these new abilities and learning what to do with them. Like supervillains, they could have succumbed to the temptation to use these abilities for personal gain or power, but they didn’t. They chose to aid their fellow human beings and to uphold the right. They took the path that made them heroes.

Human beings have always admired heroes, both fictional and flesh-and-blood. Our high regard for heroes, however, does not spring from admiration of their special abilities, though that certainly exists, but because of the choices they make — because they do something heroic with those abilities. Superheroes are fun, but deep down, we value them — and real-life heroes — because they make a choice that we hope (but are not sure) we would make in the same circumstances.

We often see examples in the news of ordinary people, and occasionally well-known people, who make the choice to do something heroic. One example that made the national news recently was when Newark, NJ’s mayor, Cory A. Booker, shook off his bodyguard — who tried to protect his life by keeping the mayor from doing something extremely dangerous — and rescued his neighbor from her burning house. When a reporter tried to label him a superhero, the mayor said, “I’m a neighbor who did what most neighbors would do, jump into action to help a friend.”

His response didn’t surprise me. We’ve all heard interviews with firefighters, police, military personnel and ordinary citizens who have pulled others from burning buildings or cars, jumped into rivers to rescue someone, or performed some other heroic feat. They tend to feel uncomfortable with the “hero” label because they don’t feel that they’ve done anything extraordinary; they merely did their job or did what anyone else would have done — what needed to be done under those circumstances.

Maybe so. Yet I think the rest of us revere our heroes, fictional and real-life, because we have a niggling doubt that we would have done the same.

Who are your heroes?

May 28 is Memorial Day, the time to honor the sacrifices of our real-life heroes. Please take time out during your trip to the shore or backyard barbecue to remember them.

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Responses

  1. Great post. I too read comics while growing up; for a bit longer than high school. I’m not embarrassed to admit it.
    Your points about heroes doing extraordinary things in the course of daily life is a wonderful view of humanity. I would hope each of us has a little hero inside.

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  2. Funny, I never got into superheroes. I thought my son would, but he wants nothing to do with them either. I really havent influenced him! I think we are both drawn to real-life heroes instead. They tug at our heart the most. My heroes are the ones that no one knows, but made a big difference in my life. Dont we all want to be heroic to someone and pass the tradition on? 🙂

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    • Superheroes are fun, but they’re fantasy. I agree, Donna – the truest heroes are the ones we meet every day whose quiet heroism is mostly unsung. We need to value all those heroes, and more important, we need to emulate them!

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  3. I knew it! I can tell through every line of your piece above.

    How did you guess my secret identity as Superman? I have worked so hard to convince people that my carefully built but false self-deprecating insecure image is real!

    Please! Do not breathe a word of this to Lex Luthor or society is doomed!

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    • But I was so careful not to mention any names, Perry!

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  4. Reblogged this on pranjalborthakur.

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