I guess my thoughts on the matter are already pretty evident, given that I’ve chosen to devote this site, in part, to them. I think that superheroes are not only relevant, they’re vital. Why? Superheroes flourished during dark times. The Golden Age of comics started in the late 1930’s. During World War 2, comics had immense popularity as heroes garbed in red, white and blue fought the Nazis and other villains. These ultra-patriotic heroes were an inspiration to their readers, showing that truth and justice could overcome evil in the world.
Today, things are a bit more complicated. Not all of our battles are being fought overseas. Many are taking place right here at home. Many are not even physical conflicts, but rather ones involving morality and simply trying to determine what is “right.”
Somewhere along the way from the Golden Age through to today, superheroes became much darker. Where once a character like the Punisher stood out from the pack, distinguished by his methods and willingness to kill villains, he is now fairly commonplace. Many heroes kill now. The hero who always knew what was right and always did it has been replaced by conflicted, uncertain heroes who make mistakes almost as often as not. The superhero of the modern age is less of a superhuman and more of a normal human with super powers.
There is a great quote in the movie Tomorrowland:
The probability of wide-spread annihilation kept going up. The only way to stop it was to show it. To scare people straight. Because, what reasonable human being wouldn’t be galvanized by the potential destruction of everything they’ve ever known or loved? To save civilization, I would show its collapse. But, how do you think this vision was received? How do you think people responded to the prospect of imminent doom? They gobbled it up like a chocolate eclair! They didn’t fear their demise, they re-packaged it. It could be enjoyed as video-games, as TV shows, books, movies, the entire world wholeheartedly embraced the apocalypse and sprinted towards it with gleeful abandon. Meanwhile, your Earth was crumbling all around you. You’ve got simultaneous epidemics of obesity and starvation. Explain that one! Bees and butterflies start to disappear, the glaciers melt, algae blooms. All around you the coal mine canaries are dropping dead and you won’t take the hint! In every moment there’s the possibility of a better future, but you people won’t believe it. And because you won’t believe it you won’t do what is necessary to make it a reality. So, you dwell on this terrible future. You resign yourselves to it for one reason, because *that* future does not ask anything of you today. So yes, we saw the iceberg and warned the Titanic. But you all just steered for it anyway, full steam ahead. Why? Because you want to sink!
It’s pretty scary, but I find there’s a lot of truth there. It’s for this reason that I feel superheroes are as important now as they have ever been– perhaps more so. I want my kids to have someone to look up to that exemplifies what is best in people. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s a fictional character; many of my heroes come from literature and entertainment, but they are symbols and exemplars of behaviours and ideals that I believe in.
With superheroes very prominent in our entertainment right now, I see a great opportunity for lessons to be imparted and morals to be highlighted in a way that can reach many, many people. I believe that a sense of optimism, a desire to help others and a willingness to act upon what one believes to be right is of utmost importance right now. Heroes need to lead the way again. They may simply be images on a page or movie screen, but these characters can inspire us. They can make us heroes.
And, of course, superheroes are just fun.