We need superheroes

DeathofsupermanI “created” my first superhero when I was five years old. His name was Captain Hank, and he possessed super-human strength, speed, and he couldn’t age. That was all, basically.

Then, of course, I had to make some villains, and then some other superheroes to aid Hank in his fight against evil.

To some, the concept of  superheroes acts simply as a metaphor for greatness. It can be easily understood by almost anyone, regardless of age, education, culture, and so on. I never actually agreed with this definition.

I believe the concept itself is so primordial that most of us actually miss the point entirely. My definition is that superheroes are characters who possess certain abilities and traits that make them better than normal people in many ways.

But they also have flaws and weaknesses, and they make mistakes.

As fictional characters, they simply connect with one of our most impossible desires: we want to belong. Most superheroes are outcasts. And their struggle to fit in is what really appeals to us. But then they put on a mask, and everything changes.

They become much more.

In a way, superheroes have taken the role reserved to ancient gods. They teach us that greatness is flawed, that saving the world doesn’t change the fact that you’re different.

But it makes everything easier to understand.

In a world where so many are struggling to find a purpose, where so many feel like they don’t fit in, that they’re somehow inherently different from everyone else, being told that different can also mean great is almost crucial.

Creating a world that’s simply out of your reach is more about hope than it is about imagination. The impossible dream that we’re all capable of greatness.

Of course, we need strength and courage and patience, and we need to face our fears, but we’re all capable of greatness.

In every superhero movie or graphic novel, there’s always that part when the good guy’s getting his ass kicked. He’s down on his knees, and you don’t expect him to get up. But this is just an outside perspective. It’s our inability to accept the fact that you can’t defeat a man who doesn’t give up.

And then our superhero rises. He finds strength where few people ever venture. From that hidden place inside our chests, that place science has yet to find.

What I’m really trying to say is that even when we’re kids, we don’t really dream about flying or being strong enough to tear down a building. We know that’s impossible, and so we aspire for an elusive form of greatness. We spend an awful lot of time dreaming about greatness, and we find comfort in those dreams.

Sadly, when the time comes to start looking for that one thing that makes us great most of us simply give up.

***

This post was inspired by this (and the other trailers):

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44 comments on “We need superheroes

  1. There was a good TEDxReno talk, about this, when they upload the video I will send it to you,
    nice job

  2. Drew Ellis Forester says:

    Hit the nail on the head, I say.

    I’ve often pondered that our Superheros are a new brand of Mythology. You see the classic stories reflected and expanded within a new context, and supplemented by new tales that are just as grand in scope and theme. Stories like Superman’s tell of benevolent gods who protect us from outside foes we could never defeat on our own. Tales like Batman tell us of simple mortals who take a stand against injustices and our own human corruptions. Captain America is a man chosen by higher powers to represent an ideal and serve as a Champion.

    These are just a few of the obvious examples, but even the designs of these characters reflect a certain Greco-Roman influence with perfectly sculpted figures and heroic features.

    So as I say, they represent a new form of mythology. It’s just that this time there is no Temple of Kal-El.

    Or, at least not a serious one!

  3. dysacalin says:

    I absolutely love this…”you can’t defeat a man who doesn’t give “up.” It has so much meaning to it…and it’s brilliantly simple :) A very valuable trait…

  4. I think people like Hercules or the guy from Babylonian myth were the first examples of superheroes. They certainly fit the bill.

  5. rebeccavt says:

    Weirdly enough, I have a rough draft of my latest blog post, talking about superheroes! Must be floating in our collective unconscious; we’re all wanting a hero to show up!

  6. jasonbladd says:

    it’s good to recapture the wonder we had as children

  7. “We spend an awful lot of time dreaming about greatness, and we find comfort in those dreams. Sadly, when the time comes to start looking for that one thing that makes us great most of us simply give up.”

    This.

  8. jorgekafkazar says:

    My idea of a hero is someone who by his own, feeble, puny, human efforts, conquers his inner and outer problems. Superheroes are too deus ex, with a little kryptonite thrown in as a sop to reality. I’d rather see children learn that there are no easy answers in life, that work is necessary to find the difficult answers.

  9. oregonmike98 says:

    wonderful job, this is a really great blog. Im glad to see I wasnt the only kid making up super heros and villains

  10. Great post. I think you’re right. There is something in us that seeks heroes. Years ago, I wrote a book on military heroism – on the psychology of it, on why people do what they do in the battlefield. The theme was ordinary people – the ‘citizen soldiers’ of the world wars of the twentieth century – suddenly having to find the strength within themselves to do extraordinary things. Few were found wanting, though when I looked into it further, the motive for sudden action on the battlefield – what “looked like” heroism, and which even led to medals,, sometimes was as simple as terror.

    At the end of the day, I think there is a hero within us. We externalise that in the form of our fantasy superheroes – but I think we also have strengths ourselves, often unknown to us, which are all the better because – in contrast with the often unlikely powers of the superheroes – these inner strengths of our own are real. We just have to find them.

    • We don’t want to accept it, mostly because it’s somewhat sad, but the truth is that fear, frustration, anger, the desire for revenge, and so on have always motivated people. There’s a difference between fighting for a principle or against a regime you find evil and fighting for your life. Survival is a pretty strong instinct, even now.

  11. I blogged about “Man of Steel” last night. Mine was more about my obsession and hero worship. I really enjoyed your take on this. Now you have me sitting here wondering if my inability to give up on my dreams, even in my late 40′s, could be somehow connected to my obsession with Superman. Now if I’m wishing I was Hank so I’d have more time.

  12. a.h.richards says:

    We definitely need ‘Captain Hank’! Preferably in real life – something like a shopping-mall Jesus. :-)

  13. pierrmorgan says:

    “…finds strength where few people ever venture…that hidden place inside our chests, that place science has yet to find.” Love this. Thank you.

  14. kotzabasis says:

    An excellent and perspicuous analysis about “superheroes” and the need for them.
    Keep creating Cristian.

  15. Been an idea that’s been floating around in my head for a bit, a superhero story. I feel like the greatest gift a superpower would give us is a new perspective of ourselves, what it really means to be great and special and how little that has to do with what’s on the outside. It’d show us where to find that illusive inner strength that tells us to never give up.

    I love this.

  16. This is great, really good points and so relevant!

  17. I think its important to look for real life heros. My husband is my personal hero and someone who is admired by all by those who know him. He didn’t let a major accident in his life change who he is as a person and even though he fights internally every day, he never lets others know about. Instead he is a source of strength and calmness for others !

  18. I enjoyed your post. I do wonder if most people are searching for greatness or simply just to fit in. The nonconformists among us who do achieve greatness are lauded for daring to be different — Bill Gates for example — but everybody else is shunned as freaks. So it’s easier to blend in than take that chance you’re the next Superman. Too bad.

  19. kick_in_ur_face says:

    When i was young i started drawing my own comic. Not very imaginative i created Superkid and his villian was Spike (noticeably similar looking to Doomsday). But beyond looking at that i always feel more like there are real superheroes in the world when i watch the DC movies versus the Marvel movies which always come off as Hollywood. I agree superheroes give you the feeling you can be better in life.

  20. Completely agree with you here. When I was younger characters like Batman and The Crow taught me that just because a person doesn’t easily fit in with everyone else all the time doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of being strong and brave and well, having a lot of balls basically! Also the way they see the world around them is often with an alternate perspective. They have to deal with more important issues than just the shallow things that seem to consume everyone around them.

  21. Scott says:

    looking forward to Man of Steel. Interesting to see what Nolan and Snyder have done with man of Steel

  22. I love this, A superhero who just doesn’t give up……

  23. Angel Pricer says:

    Love your perspective! Superhero stories often echo our own fallible humanity. For them, putting a mask on is what leads to the acceptance of their differences whereas for us, it’s the removal of our masks that reveals our real “super powers.”

  24. Great insight! I wrote a piece called, What a Man Needs Most, a few days ago that talks about the moment immediately before our hero rises & the importance of that moment! Your piece actually made me see things from a different angle.
    By the way, “… that hidden place inside our chests, that place science has yet to find.” = Brilliant!

  25. Nice perspective, beautifully articulated. In the face of “the absolutism of reality” (H. Blumenberg) we need fictional advocates, intermediaries, monster-slayers more than ever. But I especially like your sensitive rumination on how superheroes speak to our sense of our own otherness; if this were raised fully to consciousness, perhaps we’d be more compassionate toward all the other ‘Others’ we can’t avoid encountering in a globalized world…

  26. joehope22 says:

    I like your piece. The problem with superheroes is that once they show up on the scene a super villian comes along to challenge them. But as with all superheroes, failure is not an option.

  27. Really great post. I very much agree with you.

  28. stormy1812 says:

    wow – that’s amazing! wonderful perspective, so well thought out. i hadn’t thought about it before but all you said makes total sense. great post!

  29. kaagapaymo says:

    great thoughts. thank you for sharing.

  30. My superhero is Jesus! Thank you for writing this post.

  31. muggleinconverse says:

    We don’t need heroes, we need each other and ourselves. This was beautifully written. I admit I jump into fantasy often for the escapism alone. Thankfully, I find that the fictional stories I love give me the strength to be my own savior. It’s what I love about my books.

  32. CaedaSun says:

    The last line, to me, was a fantastic ending. I feel I could relate in such a way that made the entire piece/blog not only something I was nodding my head to the entire way through, but, then, something that, in the end, tied together and brought it home. I feel that, that’s what it’s about – or should be about, perhaps. People cannot give up on becoming their own kind of superhero. Knowing that a superhero is not just great and unreachable, to knowing that they’re regular people like you and me, to realizing… you can be, too. You are a superhero. Don’t give up on finding what makes you feel super. Don’t give up even when you’re jabbed in your weak spot. Anyway, thanks for the post!

  33. What a coincidence. I just read “The Death of Superman” borrowed from a friend on the same date you posted this.

  34. I grew up with Superman, but I also thought Roy Rogers was a great superhero. I think there’s a superhero in each of us. It’s simply a matter of doing the right thing.
    Like servantofcharity said, Jesus is my most superhero.

  35. A fine lil’ read about heroics, and it does get one thinking…
    i’d say more, except at this moment the hunger in my gut is greater than my thought processes, so perhaps another time~ >[;)

  36. imstillakid says:

    I like your style Cristian! I couldn’t help but notice your published works on the side bar. I’ve read a few of your posts and I like how you write. I enjoyed this Superhero post (which I mentioned in another reply to a comment above), just thought I would chime in for a nod.

    Cheers!

    Gerry (imstillakid)

  37. Lindsay says:

    So beautifully put. My 4yr old daughter is currently spending half her days as Super Fast-O, who is, of course, super fast– and whose hands can shoot so-called “attack-tornados”. From now on, I’ll be reminded of your inspiring words every time I am suddenly and unexpectedly bombarded by attack-tornados :)

    Oh, and Captain Hank– fantastic! That just might be my new favorite superhero name.

  38. Very good point about greatness and how superheroes find strength where few others can find it (reminds me of The Dark Knight Rises when Bruce has to escape from the League). Nice perspective!

  39. Brooke says:

    Liked your blog. For me I look at superheroes and I always admired how great they are and of course wanted to be someone who could really make an impact in the world some way, but at the same time I get so exhausted and then succumb to thinking, I’m not superman. I went and saw Man of Steel and was moved by the scene where superman comes in front of Lois Lane towards the end and she is standing there and he drops to his knees and I thought Superman is not perfect, he has moments of weakness too and sometimes he needs people to be there to encourage him too. It was encouraging.

  40. Incredible! I like to think of this post as a memory of how I think outside the box as most think within the box. It really makes sense when you want to be great! I truly enjoyed the greatness I felt when playing sports. I could have all kinds of players around & be the 1 to accept the challenge taking it to the spot of being critically hurt. I never felt that when playing, just after I got dome & got back up the next morning. I would start all over again though! That is what I call like being a superhero in a way as to your post here.
    Rodney

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