Wednesday, October 22, 2014

My Favorite Superheroes - Intro

I've said this before, but it bears repeating and going into further detail: The world needs fictional heroes.

To begin with, the world needs heroes in general. We need people and ideas to hold us up to a higher standard. Seeing or hearing about a hero take on a monumental task and succeeding makes going through our day-to-day bullshit so much easier. It all becomes easier when you know that someone just like you is held up to a higher standard and can still succeed. Without great men and women in history doing big, incredible things, there would be no reason to suspect that big or incredible things are even possible. Ideally, if you're ever faced with a situation to hold a grudge against someone, you should say to yourself, "Well, Mandela was locked up for decades and he didn't hold a grudge, maybe I could such-and-such slide." Or maybe you're ready to fix a problem by punching it, and you say, "Well Gandhi didn't et cetera, et cetera." You can be a little better when you have something much better to compare yourself to.

 You're free to disagree with me here, but I would argue that this effect only intensifies when the hero in question is fictional. Our real-life heroes are great, don't get me wrong, but what if they were perfect? What if they perfectly embodied some attribute that we find desirable or served as a paradigm of some sort of trait? If comparing ourselves to great people makes us better, what happens when we compare ourselves to perfect people?

A lot of people agree with me that we first learn through stories. The fairytales we heard as children are how we first learned to not be fucking assholes all the time. You can't always figure out life lessons from real life people because sometimes the truth is much more complicated that a story (Mandela, while not holding a grudge in his later years, was pretty much a terrorist in his younger years) or you never get the opportunity to see first-hand how to be a good person (your parents might sacrifice themselves to save your life, but you probably will never get a chance to see this. The idea that it's a good thing to sacrifice yourself in defense of your child would be a lesson that you never learned without a story.)

I really do feel that I learned more from fictional characters than I have from the real-world people I know. This is definitely not to say that the real-world people that I know aren't amazing, because they are, but a fictional story is easier to digest, more easily accessible, and more plentiful. Moreover, these lessons can help you appreciate the real-world heroes more. I'm convinced that I learned how to be a man from Jacob Barnes first, and that made me realize how great my grandfather is.

To tie a bow on this, there's something unique about the serial and thus-far perpetual nature of superheroes and comic books. Spider-Man, for example, as been around for over 50 years with many, many writers handling his character through their own personal lenses. Even in my lifetime, since I've started reading Spider-Man comics, I've seen numerous different "types of Spider-Man". Superheroes are stories with many authors.

That "many authorship" attribute is what makes them valuable as inspiration, because you can pick and choose which incarnation of the superhero in his or her 50-year history you like the most. There's a lot there to be inspired by, and the stories can make themselves.

With that in mind, I want to write a few blog entries in a piecemeal fashion about my favorite superheroes and what they stand for to me. My thoughts are definitely subjective here, and might mean something completely different to somebody else. (If you want to see something funny, ask a dozen comic book nerds what Batman is all about. You will get 12 different answer and 6 different sissy slapfights.) But, there are stories and lessons here that I think we can all learn.

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