Whether comic book characters have been a part of your life as far back as you can remember or you’ve only started to delve into the rich storytelling of comic books, it’s pretty safe to say that superheroes have had significant impacts on society ever since the first issue was written. Characters like Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Captain America, Wonder Woman, and the X-men are just a few from the plethora of superheroes that have inspired and uplifted so many individuals. For a great number, it is very hard to imagine life without these heroes. However, I believe that these heroes aren’t all fiction, and that you don’t have to venture too far to find a superhero that you may know.
To quickly kickstart my theory, I’d like to introduce an idea from the recent Justice League movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, I will be mentioning the opening scene, so you have been warned of spoilers. Anyway, the movie opens up with a couple of kids interviewing Superman with an old cell phone. While a lot of people did not like this particular sequence, I found that something stuck out to me after watching it. One of the boys behind the phone asks Superman this question: “What is your favorite thing about us?” The video cuts before Superman responds.
Now, keep this in mind, because I will return to this idea later after I elaborate on some examples I would like to share. Just remember that question. What is the best thing about us as a whole people?
If you are a true comic book fan, you’ll already know who your favorite character is. You’ll probably know everything about that character; their arsenal of powers, their backstory, their friends and enemies, what franchise they belong to, and everything else in between. So what would happen if we took all our favorite heroes and stripped them down to their core? What do they stand for? For a lot of them, it’s pretty easy. But for others, it may take the most devoted fan to decipher that. Let’s take my personal favorite character for example: Batman. When I first stumbled upon the Caped Crusader, it was actually in the theater watching The Dark Knight Rises in 2012. This was the first time a superhero had really captivated my attention. I wanted to know everything about this character, and quickly found myself buying volumes of comics. I ended up buying and personalizing a plastic tote just for my Batman comic books. I read all the classic stories, and even some that many say define the character. Something about this fictional crime fighter truly resonated with me. This person didn’t have any powers or special abilities like his counterparts in the respective universe. He was just a mortal man fighting the demons of his past and bringing justice to his city. For me, Batman represents the struggle that we as humans go through daily on both an emotional and physical level. He teaches us that even when terrible and dark things happen to us, we can choose to rise above them.
Now, there’s plenty of instances in the comics when Batman expresses this, but I would also like to mention other characters that I’m sure other people connect with. Spider-Man, as another example, was another character that struck with me. He fascinates people around the world. His early life dives into how a teenage boy with superpowers handles life. He’s not the biggest guy in the world by any means, but his heart is one of the biggest in the whole Marvel universe. The panel that comes to my mind when I think of what this Webhead stands for comes from Amazing Spider-Man #33. Even Spiderman Homecoming adapted this frame as well. This just goes to show how relatable of a character Peter Parker is. Is he the biggest or strongest man fighting crime? Absolutely not. But more often than not, it’s the little things that matter the most. It’s the smaller man that can sometimes make the biggest difference.
Captain America is yet another shining example from Marvel Comics. If someone were to ask you what an ideal America would look like as a person, Steve Rogers would most likely be your first answer. This superhero exemplifies what the American flag stands for: truth, justice, and freedom. His speech from the Civil War storyline is probably one of the best pieces of evidence for this. Captain Rogers is always the first and last one to stand his ground against all odds. Even when the whole world is telling him something wrong is right, he remains strong in his convictions. In today’s world, people are constantly bombarded with flipped ideas of what is good and what is not. It’s not uncommon to come across something inappropriate online that is completely disregarded or to watch someone tear another’s values down. If Captain America isn’t already an example of what to do in a wrong situation, I highly recommend that you read his comics or watch his movies to find out for yourself.
I’d be lying if I said that all of Marvel’s heroic characters didn’t stand for something. There’s some genuinely special moments from both the movies and comics that convey messages of wisdom, truth, compassion, and something worth fighting for in life. Wolverine is another example of someone who has a troubled past and is looking for what his role is in this world. Logan exemplifies that even through dark times and even though he may be different from the rest, good and pure things can still be brought about by different means to an end. In fact, all of the X-men share a similar meaning. Doctor Strange deals with physical and emotional demons that hinder him from what he loves, but he makes the choice to become something more by pushing past his limitations. Dr. Banner and the Hulk learned to work together in order become the incredible force they are. Thor is a being of immense power struggling to see his destined path. I could go on and on from the beginning of the alphabet to the end, but the important thing here is that every character from Marvel is awesome in their own right and represents something unique that many can relate to.
Now, this isn’t to say that DC Comics has a shortage of characters like these. There are plenty of excellent examples in the pages of heroes like The Flash, Aquaman, Green Arrow, Nightwing, Green Lantern, Black Canary, Wonder Woman, and many more. I would argue that this roster is just as important as Marvel’s lineup.
However, perhaps one of the greatest examples does come from DC comics. This character is one that I have recently connected with on a level I would have never expected. He is one that has been portrayed by many actors, written by many people, and voiced by many individuals since his story debut for the first time in the late 1930s. His name is Superman.
Kal-El is usually the first superhero figure that pops into one’s head when they think of comic books and superheroes in general. However, I always thought he was boring, overpowered, and always performed his actions perfectly. Whenever I saw a picture of him, he was always saving a cat out of a tree or lifting another airplane over the city to safety. He never captured me. That is, until 2013’s Man of Steel was released. I’ll be forever grateful to the friend that invited me to go see this movie that I was so hesitant to watch. When I walked out of that theater on opening day, Superman was completely different for me. He was now a hero that didn’t seem boring, overpowered or perfect. Shortly after, I begun to delve into his stories, and after reading countless articles and comics, I found something else that added so much meaning to this hero. This character’s core, his belief, has been on his chest for almost his entire existence. The symbol of the house of El, that simple “S” that everyone associates “Superman” which really means “hope”. The underlying concept of what it actually means to be Superman.
I think Man of Steel is among one of the golden moments for Clark Kent, but a large majority of his other iconic moments come from the source material. Again, there are so many panels and bits of dialogue where Superman truly inspires hope, but there are two specific ones that I have come across that I would like to expand upon. The first comes from Superman #701, and it is probably one that a lot of Superman fans know well. There’s quite a few images here, but they’re so awesome that I just couldn’t exclude them. It’s pretty obvious what is going on here, but the emotional strings tied to this are so prominent and heartfelt that to leave any of it out would be a disservice to the character. I’ll let you read it for yourself, and let the dialogue speak on its own, but this is truly one of Superman’s most hopeful moments in his history.
The other panel comes from “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?” This one may be much shorter, but it’s no short of inspirational. The character Superman is facing against challenges that inflict on his beliefs and even attempt to break him. To no surprise, he doesn’t budge. And what he says after being beaten and battered carries the weight of the world.
I end my epistle of examples with Superman because I want to tie him back to my question earlier. What’s the best thing about us? I think Superman’s answer would be: the best thing about us is that we have the potential to emulate ANY one of these heroes that I have and haven’t mentioned. What exactly do I mean by that? Well, I don’t think that we have to look far to find a Superman in our current life. I don’t think we have to tread miles and miles to see a Spider-Man or a Captain America perform some remarkable acts of kindness. I believe that everyone has the potential to shine like these superheroes. I don’t think it takes muscles, heat vision, martial arts, gadgets or heightened senses to inspire people with hope or optimism. The potential for good inhabits everyone’s hearts, and that can be a superpower all on its own. These characters don’t exist in the fictitious stories they’re wrote in. They are alive in people who don’t possess any special powers, and yet still do good. They reside in people striving to be the best they can be.
So I invite all of you to find someone who you think inspires hope like Superman or battles through life like Batman or stands their ground like Captain America, and thank them for their willingness to do good and forbid evil. I also invite you to ask yourself what you could do to be more like Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Firestorm, Blue Beetle, Storm, Wonder Woman, and any of these amazing personalities. Say something kind to someone. Lift them up. Show them selflessness and bravery. Answer the call of a hurting, broken soul that is in dire need of comforting words. Extend an arm of service to one who is unable to serve themselves. It doesn’t have to be anything massive, but just take a moment to imagine what the world would look like if people carried the spirit of the superheroes we cherish so dearly.
I’ll conclude this theory by inserting a quote from the movie that opened the door to the world of superheroes for me, The Dark Knight Rises: “A hero can be anyone.”
Go be a hero today, and keep being one every day after that! We are all special and capable of heroic things.