Friday, August 30, 2013

Why We Love Superheroes

Summer is for Superheroes
Library Lines 7/21/13

What is your favorite part of summer? Is it savoring the last minutes of the sun at the end of a great beach day? Is it the smell of the rain as the latest named hurricane swirls its path across the state? Or maybe it’s the feel of heat against your skin as you flip burgers on your Weber grill at the 4th of July barbeque? My favorite part of summer is the movies. What is better than getting out of the sweltering heat for two hours to sit in a cool theater enjoying a movie and buttery popcorn with friends? I know summer is at its peak when my movie views are as high as the temperature on the thermometer.
            My favorite of all is seeing the newest superhero movies. When I first saw the ad for the new Man of Steel movie, I think my fangirl squeal could be heard from two houses away. There is just something about superheroes, no matter how many times the story has been told, that makes people flock to them like zombies to brains. Which made me wonder: Why do we continue to love superheroes? What is it that makes them remain relevant across generations and eras?
That's why.
            To find the answers, I began browsing through Sebring Public Library’s collection of graphic novels and comic book guides and discussing them with fellow superhero-loving friends. Holy spandex, Batman! What I discovered was a treasure trove of mythology rivaling the Greeks mixed with artistic value rivaling an Andy Warhol original. From All-Star Superman to The Essential Wolverine, every square was intricate in its use of bold color, the contrast of light and dark, and nuanced evocation of emotion—and brimming with more action than a James Patterson novel. Graphic novels prove their artistry can stand up to the great pop artists while telling a riveting story.           
            But any comic book nerd can tell you that superheroes are more than beautiful, graphic pictures and word bubbles on a page. The true magic of superheroes lies in their symbolism. In a huge way, superheroes are to us what Hercules and Odysseus were to the Greeks. In a world where bad things happen, sometimes with no logical explanation, we long for a world where everything is black and white, good and evil, with no shades of grey in between. So we create stories that explain why bad things happen and we create a hero that can slay the evil in our lives. The Greeks and Romans had them, as did the Norse, and the Egyptians.
Norse never looked so good...
            As with the Greek myths, a superhero gives us someone to look up to and inspire us to be better. We can see this in every origin story: a superhero is faced with a life-altering experience we can relate to, whether it is a tragedy, destiny, or just sheer luck. The superhero finds meaning in the event, discovers his/her strengths, and chooses to use them for the greater good. They show us how we can aspire to greatness, if we can only find a catalyst to push us in that direction.
            Some may argue that comic books, specifically superhero comics, are static; never changing and overly simplified. However, I would argue, and I’m sure other comic enthusiasts would agree, that superheroes are not static, but traditional. Unlike action heroes, they don’t represent the age in which they are created (i.e. James Bond represents the agent of the Cold War era and Jason Bourne represents the digital age). Superheroes are symbols of a more resonant and prolonged struggle: the interior battle of humanity, the battle of good and evil. And each superhero has an individual ambition he/she aspires to protect: Superman stands for truth and is a symbol of hope. Batman stands for justice. Green Lantern represent will, whereas as a Red Lantern represents rage and Yellow Lanterns represents fear. Superheroes amplify the best and worst qualities of the human experience, and therefore resonate with readers on a deeper level than the artificiality of action heroes.

The reason superheroes remain relevant and will stay relevant is basic human psychology: we need heroes. We need someone to look up to. We need someone to show us that human decency and justice still exist, that hope is alive in a world going to the dogs, and that good can, and will, triumph over evil.
So even when we’ve seen Peter Parker get bitten by a radioactive spider more times than we can count, or seen Krypton blown to smithereens as Clark’s ship sails into the dark oblivion, there will always be someone to tell the same story with fresh insight and a personal perspective. We all approach the story differently, therefore, we all find something unique to like about them, whether it is from an artistic, emotional, or entertainment value. I, personally, will see Man of Steel, because, aside from my love of comic book mythology, I can’t wait to see in which direction Christopher Nolan takes Superman’s tale.