“With great power comes great responsibility.” One of the most important quotes in our pop culture is more than a motivational line. It reflects history, culture, ideas, hopes, and inspirations. These words are a testament to the strength of every superhero since the late 30s. They are more than fictional characters from comic books or movies. And we need them more than we want admit to.
When I was a kid around 5 years old my parents bought me my first comic book. It was the Amazing Spider-Man series. At that time the only thing I cared about was the amount of explosive action comic books provided to me. Spider-Man fighting Venom, X-Men kicking Magneto’s ass, Batman serving justice to the Joker, Punisher perforating bad dudes, true brute action and so on. Adrenaline. Awesomeness. Excitement.
Then I learn how to read and whole new dimension opened for me.
I learned about modus operandi of every superhero I’ve met, I’ve figured out what motivated them, what pushed them through, what made them tick. With the knowledge I’ve gained after continuous readings I realized they are more than fictional heroes. They’ve started to inspire me. To become a better version of myself. To never give up. To hustle. To get my shit together when the times were hard. To persevere. To inspire others. To this day I’m thankful to my parents for getting that issue of Spider-Man to a 5-year old me.
I’m sure you’ve experienced something similar.
Superheroes serve as a reminder of the potential for greatness in the times of great despair. It’s no surprise that first comic books date back to the 30s – the times of imminent war threat. Superheroes of these times – Superman (debuted in Action Comics #1 in 1938), Batman (Detective Comics #27 from 1939) or Captain America (debuted in Captain America Comics #1 in 1941) to name a few – joined the soldiers one way or another and helped them stop Hitler. Hell, Captain America even ended his reign with a sweet straight punch in the face.
As we grow, we cherish the complexities of our heroes more. Their morals are not just black or white anymore. During the 60s they obtained identity, personality and lots of regular problems every reader could relate to.
Spider-Man (debuted in Amazing Fantasy #15 in 1962) would be the best example. He tried to balance his regular life with a secret one. He had problems with girls all the time… You can’t see a single tear that carved my cheek right now but you don’t have to as you’ve probably shed a tear yourself.
Yes, we can say that heroes are just like us. Dealing with similar problems help us channel their point of view, thus making us feel like superheroes ourselves. It’s “what would Superman do” kind of situation. Some of us are inspired by the Superheroes’ mission or purpose which makes choosing our own path more bearable when something unexpectedly, yet AGAIN, goes haywire. “You’re much stronger than you think you are. Trust me.” as Superman said to one girl who was about to jump off a building in All-Star Superman comics. Those words touched real people as well, dissuading them from committing suicide. And all of this without even being a real people. Superheroes have inspired millions of real people not only to have hope and courage but to better themselves and stand up for others.
And that’s why the recent rise of Superhero blockbusters is a great thing. They work even better than their comic book counterparts as movies are more accessible. You don’t have to read numerous issues of different series to learn about their backstories – movies work as an essence of what makes heroes great.
People watch those movies to be entertained, have fun and to get that amazing feeling when Captain America fights Hydra agents, or when Justice League is formed or when Avengers are about to unite against Thanos. These moments fill people with excitement and it just feels good to experience them as an audience. And even though some of moves are not as well received as others, if there are people who felt satisfied or inspired – then it was worth it. Have in mind that lots of great things happened because of superhero films in general.
Moreover, with big budgets, their message is universal as well. The 40+ movies that got made for the last 18 years have grossed over $22 billion worldwide. It’s great because not only it acknowledges the economic needs of such movies. It’s also a team effort of people employed to work on movies they love, so the audience can watch superheroes they love. It’s about as perfect as it gets.
On top of that look at all of the great things people involved in movies like this are doing around the world. We’ve seen countless actors visit children hospitals in costumes just to make kids happy for a day or are involved in charities, raising great amounts of money. It’s safe to say their work is effective because of the power gained from the characters they’ve played thus working towards the betterment of the world.
Superheroes are here to help us find our own hero within, our own values, mission and purpose in life. They explain the mystery. They model behavior. They make mistakes and they learn from them. They are life lessons. They are our modern mythology.
And no one summed it up better than Grant Morrison – my favorite writer – in his “Supergods” book:
“We’ve always known we’d eventually be called upon to open our shirts and save the day, and the superhero was a crude, hopeful attempt to talk about how we all might feel on that day of great power, and great responsibility.”