On Superheroes

Cuhullin Riding His Chariot into Battle

Brian Kaller looks at the similarities and differences between the competing blockbusters Captain America: Civil War and Superman vs. Batman, and why Marvel movies are better than DC movies. Along the way, he reveals just what it is about superheroes that continues to fascinate us:

As long as humans have existed, we have told legends of people with super-human abilities, and delighted in stories of how they faced danger and out-fought or out-witted enemies. Gilgamesh for the Sumerians, Odysseus and Jason for the Greeks, Samson for the Hebrews, Beowulf for the Saxons – ancient scriptures, barbarian sagas and oral traditions swell with superheroes. In a more modern era the Scarlet Pimpernel, Zorro, Paul Bunyan, the Lone Ranger, James Bond and Sherlock Holmes are all basically super-heroes, doing things real people can’t do. Every culture has stories like this; our forebears told them around campfires or mead-halls, 20th-century kids read them in comic books.

When societies abandon that heroic ideal, when they acquire the “philosophic indifference” of Gibbon’s latter-day Romans, the culture is in deep trouble. As our country slipped away from the post-war glow into an era of escalating hedonism, it abandoned superheroes save as pablum for children.

Yet Generation X-ers and Millennials, children of the counterculture, embraced them even into adulthood, perhaps desperate for the heroes their culture no longer provided. In this century, as the nation grows ever more troubled, we are turning back to stories that give us heroes to believe in – a sign that there is hope for us.

Yes, we can dismiss superhero movies as unrealistic, childish, and silly. And in a world of hip cynicism, self-serving politicians, and sleazy celebrities, why read or write about stubbornly courageous characters who risk life and reputation for friends or family? In a world where mouthing the easy lies of our time ensures success, why would anyone in his right mind cheer a character who questions, or, heaven forbid, rebels against accepted thought?

Because we must.

8 thoughts on “On Superheroes”

  1. It’s really interesting how the same archetypes exist across various cultures around the world.. Maybe it’s something to do with how our brains work – to searches for the same patterns in order to make sense of the world around us..


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