We Need a (Super) Hero

Andrew Belonsky :: Friday, May 7th, 2010 10:30 am

Iron Man streaks into theaters again this weekend. Thor, The Green Lantern and Captain America will soon fight big screen injustice, while Superman, Spider-Man and Batman have long reaped Hollywood success. Clearly there’s a demand for super heroes and their cinematic adventures. They’re flashy, exciting and bulging with testosterone. They’re wonderfully entertaining, yes, but super hero movies can also be terribly depressing.

Since Superman’s inception in 1938, children and adults alike have been fascinated by super heroes. I know I am: I’ve been a comic book reader since I was about six, when a Spider-Man and X-Men crossover landed in my lap and offered me a respite from my pre-gay angst. The heroes of Marvel and DC – which, by the way, co-own a trademark on the word “Super Hero” and many of its variations – were, for a period, my imaginary life. Why couldn’t such people truly exist, and save regular people from the woes of real life? I’m now an adult, and comics no longer dominate my life, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still fantasize about the possibility of superheroes, and wait anxiously for their arrival.

Superheroes sprang from the depression, when people needed something, anything, to lift them from their woes. Superman did just that, as did his friends the Flash, Wonder Woman, and Marvel’s Captain America and the Human Torch. Soon superheroes were fighting Nazis, Commies and other real life baddies, becoming reflections of our world, a trend that continues – Marvel’s currently dealing with a nation divided between left and right. With our real world in shambles, and with super villains like Osama bin Laden still roaming free, it’s high time someone heed the comic call and give us what we need: a super hero.

Yeah, yeah, police officers, fire fighters and soldiers are all heroes of sort, but they’re not super heroes. Super heroes need something special, like a suit of armor or perhaps a laser cuff that can blast through walls. These may sound farfetched, but the army already has prototypes for Iron Man-esque suits, and ray guns have been in development for years. It can’t be too long until they’re stable enough for heroic fashioning. And certainly there’s enough technology to make Batman, who’s technically a costumed crime fighter, a real life character.

The military must not be in charge of these efforts, because our hero needs to act independently. Luckily, there are plenty of ultra-rich who I’m sure would underwrite such a venture. I bet Warren Buffett would be a good patron. He seems benevolent enough to find a good-hearted participant. Intentions are key: we can’t have a villain masquerading as a hero.  Though superheroes’ powers, chivalrous intentions and costumes are all seductive characteristics, the real power of heroes comes from the hope they engender.

Most Superman fans admit that the latest big screen rendering wasn’t the best. Still, one scene in particular makes me a bit misty: when long-lost Superman catches the falling plane and delivers it safely to a ballpark, thus revealing to the world that he has returned from a space slumber. The crowd goes wild, of course: their prodigal hero has returned. Such moments happen very rarely in real life. And that makes me sad.

Kate Bosworth’s Lois Lane won a Pulitzer for an article called “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman.” Superman’s return, and the fact that he saved her ass, again, makes her reconsider, and she tells her hero, played disastrously by Brandon Routh, that humans do in fact need Superman. Kirsten Dunst has told Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man roughly the same thing. Our world needs such heroes. The biggest challenge to getting our super man, however, may be regular Joes.

For someone to be a superhero, they need more than just powers and a flashy costume. They have to have high values and apolitical compassion. They overcome mankind’s selfish, bitter flaws. If someone here, in this world, can achieve that, and find the technology a superhero needs, then perhaps my comic book dreams will one day come true. If human history has shown us one thing, it’s that man’s capable of heinous things, and isn’t inclined to selflessness. Perhaps I’m too cynical, but it seems to me that my real life super person won’t be arriving anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean he or she won’t fly onto the scene some day. Until then, I’ll just have to settle for the comics.