Are Superheroes ‘Super’ Anymore?

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 15: Characters Aquaman, Batman and Superman from the Justice League film pose in character at the end of a photocall accross London after the UK premier on November 15, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Ollie Millington/Getty Images)
Ollie Millington/Getty Images

After an arduous 2020 filled with countless ‘protests,’ a volatile election, deaths of beloved celebrities, and a global pandemic, we have rediscovered that there is nothing better than kicking back, putting your feet up, and watching a good film.

An often popular and enjoyable escape from the tragedies of the real world has been superhero movies. Superhero series account for five of the top ten highest-grossing franchises of all time, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) sitting in first place with a gross revenue of $8.5 billion.

No matter if you grew up reading comic books, watching iconic Superman and Batman classics, or you merely began with the MCU in 2008, superheroes have most likely played a role in your life.

However, there have recently been two harmful degradations regarding the superhero universe which warrant lighting the Bat-Signal, or at least writing an article. These kryptonite crystals appear through the humanization and distortion of the heroes.

Before being misconstrued, we should define and explain humanization. Let this also being a warning to those that are not ‘up-to-date’ with the latest superhero releases…there are spoilers ahead.

The first — and arguably the most damaging — ploy against superheroes is their humanization, with humanization defined as the reduction of prominence and stature of powerful heroes to a common and quotidian level. The most notorious example of this diminution is ‘Fat Thor’ from Avenger’s: Endgame.

Thor, the god of thunder and ruler of Asgard, in a shocking and disturbing twist of fate, becomes a drunkard and oaf after Thanos defeated the Avengers in the previous film and annihilated half the population of the universe.

One could argue that such a traumatic event would cause anyone to spiral into a crippling depression, even someone as brave and powerful as a Norse god. However, that would still not justify his proceeding actions in the movie, such as his cowardly abdication of the Asgardians and acceptance of mediocrity.

In a scene where Thor encounters his mother from an alternate timeline and universe, she tells Thor that because of his failures, he is just like everyone else; and that the measure of a hero is “how well they succeed at being who they are.”

While comments equating the shortcomings of Thor to that of an average person may just be an attempt to comfort the discouraged hero, the real harm lies in the notion that “being who you are” is what makes you super. 

Firstly, this assertion is an abasement of incredible feats and of outstanding characters. But more importantly, it is a jab at the virtues of a hero. What criteria makes you who you are meant to be, and why would that make you heroic? Are there no universally understood principles that make a superhero? 

Furthermore, if the threshold of being super is being yourself, isn’t every self-assured person on the face of the earth a superhero? Obviously, this cannot be the case.

The error lies in this all-inclusive message that everyone is super. Like the villain Syndrome says in The Incredibles, “When everyone is super, no one will be.”

As the criminal mastermind’s name insinuates, this is a disorderly, delusional, and relativistic philosophy which has unfortunately been widely accepted and adopted in today’s culture.

The second damning portrayal of superheroes has been in relation to their character. There is a balance that must be found when creating and developing a character. The archetypal hero can be overdone or overused, which is why characters with a darker and more enigmatic temperament, such as Wolverine, make for a refreshing break from the Captain Americas and Supermans of the superhero worlds.

However, portrayals like Amazon’s series The Boys undermines the legitimacy of superheroes entirely. Although the show intentionally depicts “The Seven” supers as non-heroes throughout its course, it seems to only harm the superhero genre.

If superheroes are not made out to be the outstanding examples of leadership, courage, and virtue in society, what role models are left to emulate?

This issue can be traced back to its definition.

The term “superhero” is two part — “super” refers to their incredible abilities, and “hero,” to their exceptional character and integrity. With enough diligence and application, anyone can become a trained warrior or a virtuous person, which are both worthwhile aspirations; but it is only the superheroes that attain both and to the highest degree.

They must have the capabilities to inflict great harm, but the character and prudence to refrain and to do good. As Dr. Jordan Peterson says, “The hero has to be a monster, but a controlled monster.”

Yet, that is not enough. They must choose to defend and promote the good. The act of willfully choosing the good or preventing the bad in order to follow and protect both the natural order and ethical framework of the world is what makes a superhero so admirable. 

Despite the degradations and perversions of modern superheroes, it is important to remember that the calling of every man and hero alike is found in serving others. And as long as there are extraordinary and vigilant people setting a good example and shining the beacon for help, there is still hope for the traditional and inspirational heroes to emerge.

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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