Up Up and Away: The Appeal of a Superhero

Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! Superman. You’ve heard of him.

But what makes a superhero super? Why do millions of people gobble up comic books, stories of unbelievable fictional characters?

Speaking from the perspective of a longtime superhero nerd (Batman would beat Superman (and has, a few times) any day), it’s because of the reader’s ability to insert him/herself into the character and be something so much more than is ever truly possible. Superheros represent the ultimate end of ability, the most powerful, most intelligent, fastest, strongest, noblest characters in literature. They are created as characters embodying something we desire.

How many of us have dreamed of flying? I do, probably multiple times a week. Soaring over your neighborhood to the amazement of your friends, seeing things from a whole new perspective, and being singular are many reasons that dream is so appealing. However, the most stimulating aspect of flying would be (to me) the freedom of being able to go anywhere, whenever you wanted, in a way that would be entirely your own. No one to bother you, an immediate escape from an uncomfortable (or boring) situation. A place to think and observe, while being free to move in any direction while you did so. Sigh. Daydreaming again.

Another appeal of comics to the reader is the hero’s creation, from nothing to something. Superheros are often transformed into who they are, be it via a nuclear explosion, chemical testing, magic, or alien influence. The transformation happens suddenly, where an ordinary citizen is given extraordinary abilities and is suddenly a hero because they can do things others can’t and use those abilities for good. The appeal there is that anyone, ANYONE, can become a superhero at any moment. The best example of this is Spider-Man. Peter Parker, a  high school science-geek-photographer, is bitten by a radioactive spider and becomes one of the most loved heroes in comic-book history. Zero to Hero!

But not all heroes are given their talents. As most superheros have super powers, the one case that stands out the most is Batman. A mere mortal, with no special abilities that the rest of the human race isn’t born with, Bruce Wayne used the determination he gained as a child through watching his parents be killed to train himself into the Batman. He is a monument to the power of self-control and hard work.

One of the things that makes Batman so interesting is his opposition. His villains. Of all characters in all comic books, no hero has more memorable villains than Batman. His adversaries are what drive him to be stronger, smarter, faster than they are. Batman is a perfect idol for those who are pressed with problems they feel they cannot overcome with only the tools that they have. Hopelessness can set in, thoughts of “how can I possibly do this?” will creep into your mind, but by never quitting and always getting back up, you can win.

The dream of being exceptional is one of the most powerful dreams there is. Today, it is easy to feel that you are a drop in a bucket, a number or a statistic instead of a person. You may be overlooked, undervalued, or feel alone. It can feel that no matter how hard you try, what you want is out of reach. I have felt all of this before and at some point may feel that way again. It happens to pretty much everyone. But the thing to remember is: in some way, you have been a hero to someone. Whether you really saved someone’s life, helped carry the groceries for your grandma, or even smiled at someone who needed it, you did something for them that they needed. You’re awesome. You’re a hero.

Now, off to don my cape.

2 Responses to “Up Up and Away: The Appeal of a Superhero”
  1. Bob McEwen says:

    Another great post, John. Loving these day-to-day observations of yours!

  2. Karen says:

    This was fabulous, a great explanation of a feeling we have all had, and why we love super heroes. Thanks for writing this – a real upper!

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