Superheroes

I love superheroes. I’m a fan of comicbooks as well, but my first love is the heroes in them, and I love them in every medium: comicbooks, normal books, movies, TV, games, action figures, and so on and so on and so on. This love comes out in my writing even when I’m not writing anything remotely related to the superhero genre–my two favorite superheroes, Hellboy and Green Lantern, both show up in I Am Not a Serial Killer, though the mentions are brief and you may not even have noticed them.

Superheroes are a really interesting phenomenon to me, and another example of what I consider to be a primarily American mindset. We love heroes in general, especially iconic heroes, and yet we don’t have the really iconic hero figures you find in other countries with more history: the knight, the samurai, the robin hood type, the kung fu master, the musketeer. The closest we get is the cowboy, but as Americans we’re surprisingly embarrassed of our own kitsch, and the popularity of the cowboy swings in and out of favor almost at random (it’s on the upswing now, and I’m interested to see how far it goes this time). The strict battle lines between people who love and hate country music probably has a lot to do with the popularity of the cowboy as well.

And so we don’t have the kind of cultural heroes that we admire in other cultures, and in the early years of the last century we started inventing our own. The early superheroes were people like Popeye, who had amazing powers but used them mostly as jokes or funny stories. Superman was created, according to interviews with the creators, as an attempt to take a Popeye figure and treat him seriously, actually using his powers to right wrongs and make the world a better place. As the first official superhero, Superman also brought the genre a subtle religious grounding, using the Moses archetype to bring faith/myth/grandeur to a culture that didn’t have enough of it. The modern superhero is greatly changed form its early days, but it still has that original vibe, if nothing else, of homemade mythic heroism.

3 Responses to “Superheroes”

  1. I was a book reader…my hero’s were authors..robert ruark, h.allen smith, farley, etc. and tarzan, crazy horse, and my daddy. never got into comics..but even as i am a weird growd up..i was a weird kid. you wanted to be a superhero..i wanted to be the black stallion..or one of tarzans apes..sigh*…still would..

  2. Fiona says:

    Very cool post, Dan. Thanks.

  3. SaintEhlers says:

    Superman being first is arguable. Ka-Zar and The Spirit both pre-date his first appearance. The Spirit didn’t have superpowers, but neither does Batman. He had a superhero-esque name and wore a mask though. Ka-Zar, while more subtle, qualifies as a superhero, imo.

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