“And the Lord did look down upon the mighty Sampson and sayeth: “Lo Samson, son of Manoah, verily thou hast great hair but I fear thy “business in the front and party in the back” vibe. I beseech thee, let my personal stylist Delilah trim thy locks before others don thy look.” Humbled, the legendary hero paid heed to his Lord and thus allowedeth his mighty mullet sheered. An urn of whup-ass was promptly opened upon him.”
-Face psalms 12:16
Ah, superheroes, yes our man with the big hair and the ball-busting girlfriend was indeed one back in the day. In fact, history’s full of `em: Achillies, Perseus, Thor, Hercules, Nixon. The list is almost endless! So what exactly is the F#&$ up with us regular folk and our fetish for these so-called superheroes? What’s with the need to be constantly saved from our selves by over-the-top, mythical (see Nixon) dudes and chicks? This weeks post aims to pull down Tarzan’s loincloth and expose the truth!
First off, let’s look at the word “superhero”. It’s a made up word that didn’t exist until two perfectly fine words were mashed together, like the words “pen” and “is” (I believe the resulting word “penis” was derived from the phrase “His junk is as thin as a pen is.”). “Super,” of course, signifies something awesome and when put in front of a word/noun, makes that thing much cooler than others of its ilk. You know, like “superintendent’ – which is an intendent that’s really good at…intending. So the adjective “super” is pretty simple. Not so simple is exactly what a hero is (aside from being a noun).
Let’s be honest here, in the real world, heroes aren’t super in the same sense we all know a “superhero” to be. But they can be awesome. What makes real world heroes awesome is that they’re regular peeps putting the welfare of others before their own without the slight advantage of being able to leap tall buildings. Fortunately, there are a lot of these people and they do have one really cool power, empathy. Some you could say (if you want to connect my digressions for me) are super-empathetic. But that’s the real world. And as we know, us geeks view the real world as a nuisance so let’s get back to… SUPERHEROES!
Superheroes are like other fictional heroes, but on crack (remember kids, crack is whack). And that’s because being smooth with a line and good with a gun sometimes just won’t cut it. Sometimes, you need tights. There are all kinds of fictional heroes (not necessarily super) but they fall mainly into two groups: the fun-loving ones (James Bond) and the not-so-fun-loving ones (Mel Gibson in The Road Warrior). Both can be equally sexy and wish fulfilling but the common key they share – like all great heroes – is that fun or not, you gotta want to be them. My personal favorites are the ones that must carry the burden of being a hero, like Batman, or Wolverine, or the coolest ever, Jackie Estacado aka The Darkness (My blog remember?). My favorite favorites are the anti-heroes like The Road Warrior...and Jackie Estacado. Not that I don’t like a good James Bond movie mind you but jeez, the guy gets laid constantly and gets to kill dudes with sweet names like Oddjob! Where’s the burden in that? Now granted, unless you like downer endings for your heroes ala William “Buzzkill” Shakespeare, it’s a given that the good guy won’t be killed in the end (sequels people)! So how do we maintain the drama for a hero’s journey if we know he ain’t gonna die? Ay, there’s the rub! It’s simple, kindly flush the good guy down Hell’s public toilet! In other words, keep Charlie Brown down until he gathers every ounce of will and determination and crawls out of Satan’s fetid bowl on his own!
So really what makes a hero (fictional or real) is heart, a heart to be stepped on, stabbed, or broken (preferably all three). Our heart is the most important and vulnerable (dramatic) organ in the body (for those of you that just thought to themselves “it’s the brain you idiot!” you’re missing the point). Hurting a hero’s logic (brain) means nothing, hurting his emotions (heart) is EVERYTHING (the need for all caps is proof of drama)! This is even more important in the case of “super” heroes. Since we make them physically (metaphorically) strong (it’s hero shorthand really) we need to make them vulnerable in the mushy parts. You know, emotions and S#&%.
A great hero, super or not, is often some version of nature vs. nurture. This is especially true with anti-heroes (which is why I find them much more interesting). Unless your heroes happen to be chemically imbalanced sociopaths, chances are they came out of the womb pretty decent people. That means that somewhere down the line, something awful happened that closed them off emotionally and caused them to turn their back on society. Somewhere in his/her past the hero got their heart stomped and they’ll be forever haunted by it. Sure they were born good (nature), but were F#$%ED over by a fateful event or by nurture (which catalyst is more psychologically damaging and a better motivator is open to debate). And anti-heroes always have to turn their back on society, otherwise coming back to help us is pointless. Don’t go masturbate yet `cause the next paragraph is the cool one.
People sometimes scratch their heads when I say this, but to me a great hero can NEVER ACTUALLY WIN. I know what you’re thinking and yes, crack is whack and no, I’m not – at the moment – smoking it. The best fictional heroes (especially the anti’s) must never loose the hero’s burden. Even in victory they must walk the world alone, which puts them at the same time above and below the rest of us. That’s a great human/character dichotomy. Their nobility is in the sacrifice of what the rest of us would consider happiness. Hence they can never actually “win”. They can win the battle but the internal war will forever be fought. Now that’s drama! The point of all this is that it’s not so much the super part that we need from our superheroes as much as the human personal self-sacrificing part. But we’ll get to the “super” part in a bit.
Before Mel Gibson pulled a “Two girls and a cup” on his career, he starred in The Road Warrior – still one of my favorite anti-hero movies. Here’s a character that was decent and good that had his life crapped on, thus turning him jaded and cynical. Like all good anti-heroes he’s physically and intellectually capable but emotionally crippled. That’s why Mel’s character arc is so tragic/perfect. Man is good, man gets F#$%ED over, man turns his back on his fellow man, man reluctantly begins to trust again and saves the day only to get F#$%ED over, again, in the end. In the last frames of the movie, Mel the hero walks off into the sunset alone, having done the right thing (which he will do again) and paying for it (which he will do again). Perfect. “Okay Marc,” you say, “so you’re a genius. But tell us, why the need to be super? Isn’t it enough just to do the right thing against all odds?” Just a couple more cool paragraphs and you can go relieve yourselves.
The good news as to why we need our heroes to be “super” is because it looks really awesome when they break big things. The bad news is that there’s a heavy dose of our fragile ego and insecurities at work. Remember that a big part of a superhero’s lasting popularity is wish fulfillment on the part of the audience. It’s not just the fact he/she pulls the balls off the bad guy, it’s how they do it. And how they do it needs to be BIG. Wish fulfillment isn’t all that fulfilling if it’s you alone in your room, it’s not big, and nobody sees it (Masturbating is a different story btw. Keep that in your room). If we put ourselves in Superman’s red booties we want ALL our friends to go “Ooooo, he’s the S#*%! I want to buy him a drink!” Another ingredient is that somewhere deep inside – Krell style – is the need to make our heroes somehow bigger and better than us (i.e. super) so our fragile egos don’t get wounded. “We couldn’t possibly do that, because we’re not super!” Plus we all need to feel protected by some God-like (or God if you wanna get ultimate) being that can defeat any Boogyman. Kind of like a “My dad can beat up your dad!” sort of thing.
Anyway, I’m typing while hungry so all of the above can be utter Bulls#*% for all I know. If you wanna call Bulls#*% on me feel free to log on and debate! Or better yet, log on and tell me I’m awesome. Well, I gotta go `cause I gotta eat something…and get my hair cut. So until next week--
Adopt a puppy, not an attitude.
Marc Silvestri was born in 1959 on Easter Sunday, coincidentally on the same day his mother gave birth to him. He’s been in the comic business his entire adult life and in 1993 started his own company, Top Cow Productions. Marc spends his days making crap up for comics, movies, TV, and video games. And is proud to now add professional blogger to his resume. He also likes you just the way you are.