For those of you like me (i.e. without lives), you know DC comics created a vast, universe-spanning reboot for 52 titles that are now arbitrarily labeled with #1 issues across the board.
This is the biggest reboot for DC since Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985. Superheroes have transcended the comic book world and entered the film world. “The Avengers” is coming out next year, along with the highly-anticipated third Nolan Batman film, “The Dark Knight Rises.” Not to mention Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel,” coming out in 2013, as well as a sequel to “Green Lantern” (for some reason). In addition to these films, America has a pop-culture landscape saturated with superheroes.
What makes people flock to superheroes? Since their inception in 1938 with Action Comics #1 and the iconic cover showing Superman throwing a car into a rock, superheroes have been popular. But what has people so enamored by these hulking men and women in tight spandex? I think it’s because comic books are modern mythology. Everyone knows about Superman’s weakness to Kryptonite the same way everyone knew about Achilles’ heel in ancient Greece. They know Batman’s tragic origin story the same way everyone knew the tale of Osiris’ revenge in Egypt.
Comparing the myths of heroes and gods to superheroes is way too easy, especially since a) they’re superheroes, thus heroes, b) many have god-like powers rivaling those of Zeus and Odin, easily, and c) many of them actually are gods (case in point: Thor).
But that’s only part of it. Saying all adventure stories with fantastical elements are our modern mythology is going too far. However, superhero stories serve to teach morals, cultivate empathy and promote responsibility to the world and ourselves.
Batman teaches us the power of human fortitude. He demonstrates what can happen if you push yourself physically and mentally. Batman is not just one of the greatest martial artists in the world; he’s also the world’s greatest detective. He knocked out gods, stopped alien invasions, banged all the hottest super villainesses, all without pesky superpowers. He did it through grit, intelligence, determination and maybe a few well-placed punches. He inspires us to better ourselves.
Superman also promotes great lessons. His power is often misunderstood, however. Superman’s power does not come from the fact that he can beat everyone up; instead, it comes from the fact that he doesn’t. He has almost unlimited powers and is nearly unstoppable (because, honestly, besides Batman and Lex Luthor, who really has Kryptonite at their disposal?), yet decides to use his power for good. Let that sink in for a moment — imagine if you had that power. Wouldn’t you go around making the world your slave, forcing everyone to carve your likeness into everything, including tattooing newborns with your face on their face? Oh, just me? Well, point is, Superman’s power is his ultimate goodness, not the fact that he can punch you straight into the sun. That’s why his arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor, is a perfect foil. He is so consumed by his own vanity that he does everything in his power to discredit Superman through his media empire, fueling fear and xenophobia. Superman can’t punch the problem away because violence would only prove Lex is right in believing that he is a dangerous threat. Instead, Superman always chooses to be the better man, and Lex always loses.
But, when a physical threat does present a danger, Superman is the first to fight to the last breath and sacrifice his life to save everyone and stop any deaths, including his enemies. That is someone to look up to.
And, of course, there are the X-Men, who are about dealing with being different and realizing there are others like you. It teaches us to not hate the people that persecute us, and even to possibly defend them. Professor X should be a role-model for everyone, since he is the epitome of forgiveness and empathy.
And those are just a few of the numerous heroes. Of course, there are differences between superhero stories and ancient myths, in the sense that we know these stories are not real, while the ancients believed their myths to be cold-hard facts. But I don’t think it matters that you know these stories are not real. Their impact on people’s lives (including mine) is real.
For instance, I was an overweight child who decided to do something about it because of Batman, a man who kept pushing himself. Superman has taught me to be the better man, to share what I have and remain honest as much as possible. I learned acceptance from X-Men. I realized not to hate those who have wronged me, or whom I’ve perceived as having wronged me, but to realize that I’m not alone in my pain and will be accepted and supported by friends. Superheroes taught me to be stronger, and without them, I don’t think I could’ve survived my adolescence to be the (marginally) stable person I am today.
For me, these stories were more impactful than any religion, which always seemed like a glorified myth to me anyway. Now, that statement may be controversial, but bear with me before anyone of faith gets offended. I don’t feel there’s anything wrong with believing in gods, spirits or anything of the sort. Ultimately, I think we can all agree — including my fellow Atheists — that many of the stories in the Bible, the Qur’an, the Tanakh or the Hindu Vedas are all powerful, resonant and impactful. They, like superhero stories and ancient myths, teach us about the important things in life, values and human nature. I can be moved by Jesus’ sacrifice and Mohammed’s parables without adhering to either faith.
It doesn’t matter whether the stories are real or not. What truly matters is that their impact is real.