In the many comic book universes, there have been a ton of variations and interpretations of what we call a “hero”. Our comic book heroes have unique super human abilities, insights, convictions, will power, strength, origins, and personal pain that drive them.
Not all super heroes are plagued by inner demons, but the more complex the human condition becomes, the more complex the super-human condition becomes as well. Some super heroes are a reflection of the needs and plagues of humanity; others are born of a wicked imagination and amazing talent. Yet all have evolved from the earliest definitions of the “superhero”.
The All-American Boys
The first superhero was of course Superman. He was introduced in 1938 to a country suffering under the weight of the Great Depression, and the rising threat of Fascism in Europe. He quickly became the embodiment of American values. As a beacon of hope for humanity, Superman embodied all the best qualities a human could have. He was and is dedicated to fighting for truth, justice, and the American way. Detractors will say he is a naïve boy-scout, far too invincible and too polished to be relate-able to us.
Captain America was soon to follow. Both were created in an era where good and evil were more clearly defined relative to today’s world. The Nazis were often the basis for the villainy that our heroes were battling against, and during WW II it was easy to distinguish the tyranny of Nazi Germany from the liberating force of the American war machine that was in high gear.
A Slightly Darker Figure: Batman
Of course Batman was a superhero with a darker, more complex character than Superman or Captain America. The obvious difference is his being a man without “super powers”, but he is also a man struggling with a psychological crisis that drives him to become the bat. His power is his intelligence and his tenacity. Well, let’s not forget his money; he couldn’t be the Bat without all those gadgets and toys.
Superheroes of the Modern Era
With the launch of the newly branded Marvel Comics, Stan Lee brought us super heroes with a much a more relateable storyline. Spider-Man was a teenager who dealt with all the problems that come along with being an orphaned kid in Queens. The X-Men were a cast of edgy characters that, in some cases like Wolverine, had an extremely traumatic past.
The Hulk is a perfect example of the human dark side that Stan Lee injected into his super heroes. He’s the personification of human rage. Most of the time he’s Bruce Banner, the scientist who is working towards the betterment of mankind. When he is pushed beyond his emotional limits, he transforms into the green rage monster.
In some iterations of this story Bruce Banner is in hiding, struggling with this side of himself that he fears and desperately tries to control. In a way this is a struggle for many of us; the effort to control our rage and not be put into situations that push us beyond our emotional limits.
As The Story Continues…
Life is more complex in our modern world than perhaps ever before. The human condition is constantly changing with the advent and evolution of technology, and the entropy of many elements of society is putting new strains on the lives we lead. Our superheroes have real flaws that many of us can identify with. The lines between good and evil are blurred in many superheroes these days.
That is a direct reflection of who we have become as a society. Our hope for goodness, or even greatness is often marred by our primal darkness; the flaws that keep us mere humans. Having superheroes with similar traits allows us to feel more connected to their fantastical universes, and perhaps still hold on to that child-like hope that we too can still be great.