I believe strongly that we need heroes.
Since the beginning of civilisation, we have shared stories of beings that exceed our expectations of reality. From the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh to Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad; we have explored accounts of unlikely heroes who fought against disastrous actions of Gods, monsters, and villains. We teach morals to children through the narratives that are dominant in our society and follow dutifully the stories that resonate with how we perceive the world.
I have always loved exploring these stories – it took up the bulk of my random research prior to formal education. My Quest for Answers sought to discover the limits of knowledge which ultimately led to exploring imagination. Fictional literature can enhance human knowledge by exploring beyond what is possible to experience.
In the ancient past only a select few had the ability to read that which even fewer had the skill to create. We are now almost overwhelmed by the history and diversity of creative imagination that is available to us. Questions on whether true reality is being depicted is irrelevant here. Suspension of disbelief is required for enjoyment.
Collective tales that capture the imagination of people can be empowering. For this reason, I place value in superheroes and argue that these narratives have societal value. I must admit that my experience is biased toward Marvel, therefore I can only speak of my own interest. I acknowledge that many of the same points may apply to DC Comics, Image, and other publishers, however I can only discuss confidently my own knowledge.
The heroes of the superhero genre are not heroes because they have powers that exceed human experience – villains often have powers too. Superheroes are heroes because of the choices they make, the actions they must take responsibility for and because of the determination to help people with less power than themselves.
I would argue that the superhero genre is the modern-day equivalent to the ancient epics that chronicle the deeds of beings that are more than human. They inspire and stretch the imaginations of children who look up to heroes with admiration and awe. The tales provide a modern narrative of power, morality and responsibility thus provide a framework to view the society it originates from.
Captain America was created in the 1940’s during World War II as the ultimate patriotic ‘Supersoldier’ who fought against Hydra, the comic version of the Axis Powers. This character became the publishers most popular character and in fact predates the creation of Marvel itself. Steve Rogers is a character that is depicted as having a strong moral compass who is willing to break the rules for the ultimate good.
This explores the notion that the rules themselves are not always beneficial for humanity and we must be willing to fight for the changes in society that support diversity, equality and freedom. Those in power do not always have the best intentions or the best morals. Therefore whenever the ideology of the Axis of Power arises, we must fight against it in the name of dignity and liberty.
2016 was a very interesting year for Captain America. It was the year that the third instalment of the character’s solo cinematic franchise was released, which was based on the 2006 crossover event Civil War. Then a few months later, Marvel shocked the fan base with the release of Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 where it was revealed he was apparently a Hydra agent all along. Civil War II and the war between Inhumans vs Xmen kicked off in the comics without any of the other characters discovering this. By the end of the year: Brexit and Trump had happened. The next big Marvel crossover event, Secret Empire, will centre around Rogers betrayal and the visuals are chilling.
Just to be clear – I am in no way suggesting that the comic events had anything to do with real world events; correlation is not causation. On the contrary, the comic narratives reflect the state of the society they are created in. Now the ultimate American hero of the people is the bad guy; the villain that must be fought against.
These events in the Marvel Universe follow on from almost a decade of introductions of diverse characters such as Danielle Cage (2006), Miles Morales (2011), Kamala Khan (2013) and Riri Williams (2016) – again I am not suggesting that there is a correlation between the emergence of ethnically diverse comic characters and the apparent rise in racism and xenophobia (although they may be one); my argument is simply that comics reflect aspects of society that are very real to those who experience it.
I name these characters in particular because they are not new superheroes that were created – they were new characters that took on the mantle of existing superheroes who had traditionally been depicted as white males – Danielle Cage is Captain America, Miles Morales is Spiderman, and Riri Williams is the new Iron Man. Kamala Khan took the title of Ms Marvel after the original Ms Marvel (Carol Danvers) became Captain Marvel who was originally a man called Mar-Vell.
As American society became more accepting of equality and ethnic diversity, so too did the superhero world. It has long been suggested that the X-Men storylines reflect social issues such as racism, bigotry and xenophobia. The story arcs often explore the opposing philosophies of diverse integration and separatism. Characters like Professor X and Cyclops can even represent disabilities and it can be argued that Scarlet Witch represents mental instability.
Wanda Maximoff is my number one favourite female Marvel character. When I started reading comics over 3 years ago, I was swift in choosing Scarlet Witch as my favourite female hero. Sure, it was her reality altering powers that first caught my attention but as I’ve read more about her, I have come to realise that she is worthy of being called a hero – although she was originally introduced as a villain.
She is incredibly powerful, strong, and brave but she has been through a lot of traumatic experiences and is often manipulated by villains because she lacks control emotionally. Terrible things happen because of her but she is NOT a villain because she accepts full responsibility for her actions; even when control was lost and the blame lay elsewhere.
Remorse does not make her reckless – she uses it to strengthen her resolve to make amends.
When people confront her about her mistakes she does not make excuses or deny her involvement – she accepts the truth and the consequences of her actions and never gives up! Scarlet Witch is a true hero – a true Avenger because she is willing to sacrifice her life to make things right. It is her story, her life – and how she learns to control herself through wisdom and the guidance of other great heroes that makes her my favourite hero.
We need the stories of heroes to give us the hope and determination to never give up regardless of whatever situation we are born into. We all have the power to determine our own narrative and this is why tales of heroes are important for society; they exist as a reminder of our capacity as free thinking and acting moral agents.
Can we choose the circumstances of our birth? No. But how we proceed from there is always our own responsibility.