From “The Avengers” to “The Amazing Spider-Man” to “The Dark Knight Rises”, movie-goers are certainly getting their superhero hookup this summer – to which I say, huzzah! And I’m not alone. Mainstreamers, diehard nerds, in-betweenies chillin’ in the gray area (like myself), most everyone loves a superhero. But not everyone can agree on what, exactly, a superhero is.
My faithful dictionary defines the word as “a figure, especially in a comic strip or cartoon, endowed with superhuman powers and usually portrayed as fighting evil or crime”. But does that tell the whole story? Or is there more or less to it than that? Just what is it that puts the “super” and “hero” in “superhero”?
I’m very glad you asked. (If you didn’t actually ask, I don’t have to know, just nod and claim the credit.)
Power to the People
Superhuman: “Above or beyond the human; preternatural or supernatural” or “beyond ordinary or normal human ability, power, or experience”.
If just any old person could do it, it wouldn’t be considered super. Spider-Man skittering up walls? It wouldn’t impress any spiders, because they can all do that. But for a human, that’s pretty darn extraordinary.
So my apologies to Batman, Iron Man, and their crowd, but those guys are not technically superheroes. They are fabulously wealthy people with incredibly dangerous toys, and they use those toys (and, in the case of Batman, mad ninja skills) for the side of right. Commendable, absolutely. But not the sort of thing you’d need a just-shy-of-lethal dose of radiation to accomplish.
The Hero Blog Land Deserves (If Not the One It Needs, Right Now…)
Hero: “A person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life.”
By previous definition, not everyone can have superpowers; but anyone can be a hero, if they’ve got a hero’s heart. If they’re willing to stand against the bad guys for the little guys, even if they’re little guys themselves (à la Steve Rogers before he became Captain America). If they’re man, woman, or freak enough to take on impossible odds in the name of all the good in this world worth fighting for (thinking of you, Samwise Gamgee). Heroes lay down their own safety so they’ve got their hands free to put up their dukes, but more than that: They do it for the right reasons.
I’ve yet to be convinced that the Incredible Hulk counts as a hero. Oh, he’s undeniably super; the green skin, single bounds over buildings, and smashing prowess pretty much let that cat out of the bag. However, when you seem to spend as much time chasing the good guys as attacking the bad guys, that doesn’t look like heroism; that looks like a loose cannon that we can only hope fires in the direction we want more often than it fires on us. A little righteous anger in a hero can be a good thing. Blind, roaring rage, not so much.
That, as I see it, is what makes a superhero. What are your thoughts?
Which heroes (super or otherwise) are your favorites?
Where in the world were the rest of New York’s superheroes when the Avengers were battling Loki ‘n’ ‘em? (Don’t tell me the X-Men, Spidey, and the Fantastic Four were all on vacation at once!)