by Wayne Ree

Blockbuster season is well underway, and it looks like the superhero films are reigning supreme once more. Last month, Iron Man 3 ushered in Marvel’s second phase of cinematic adventures. Man of Steel – the revamp of the Superman film franchise and, some speculate, the first step to an Avengers-styled Justice League film – has already scored a US$128 million opening weekend.

Man of Steel, Henry Cavill, Superman

Man of Steel ©Warner Bros

But even before costumed crusaders became a tent-pole of summer flicks, they spent nearly a century as part of our cultural consciousness. After all, aside from his return to the big screen, this year also marks the 75th anniversary of Superman, the original superhero. (And I gotta say, Clark’s looking pretty damn spry for his age…).

But what’s the appeal of these spandex-clad do-gooders? Decade after decade, why do we keep going back to them?

Gods among men

The simplest reason is that they’re not just colourfully garbed characters.  Look at Superman – a demi-god from the heavens that lives among and helps humanity? Sounds a lot like Hercules re-envisioned by two Jewish boys in the early 20 century to me. Batman and Robin? Two grim guardians holding back the darkness, while dwelling in those very same shadows. Spider-Man’s snarky quips and pranks immediately calls to mind trickster gods like Anansi. (Well, there’s also that Norse fella, but that’s a different story altogether…)

I could go on, but I think you get my point – a point that lots of people smarter than me have made before. We identify with superheroes because the idea of them has been ingrained in our collective psyches even before the term “superhero” was coined.

That’s why guys like Batman can go through so many interpretations – from the campy 60s TV series to Christopher Nolan’s grim Dark Knight trilogy. They’ve grown beyond being just characters.

They’re mythology now.

Batman, DC Comics

The Caped Crusader ©DC Comics

We can be heroes, just for one page

Don’t worry, I’m not gonna start comparing Avengers vs X-Men to The Iliad next. For one thing, The Iliad’s hardcover collection never had an introduction from WWE superstar CM Punk (sorry, Homer).

Instead, I’m gonna take a 180 and look at how superheroes are just as wonderfully fallible as we are. Out of his Spidey digs, Peter Parker is almost always broke, can’t get a date and struggles to stay awake in class. When the webshooters come on though, the frustrations of his daily life are washed away in a series of punches delivered to the Green Goblin’s grinning face.

My point? Whenever I pick up a Spidey comic, it’s more than entertainment. It’s catharsis. That’s why Marvel Comics gave us Miles Morales, a new Spider-Man of mixed heritage for the 21st century, to better reflect our far more diverse society. They understand that we look at our heroes as empowered versions of ourselves, so why not create more heroes that look like us?

Spider-Man

The web crawler ©Sony

The never-ending battle for truth and justice

But when you really get down to it, the reason we love superheroes is simple: like the myths and legends that preceded them, they’ll never go away.

In his book Supergods, author and comic scribe Grant Morrison wrote, “We can analyse [our superheroes] out of existence, kill them, ban them, mock them, and still they return, patiently reminding us of who we are and what we wish we could be.”

It’s a nice sentiment. And when you strip away big budget special effects and monstrous marketing machines, I think that’s what really matters. Long after superheroes stop making big box office boffo (and the day will eventually come), they’ll still have a place in our hearts.

They’re not going anywhere. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What do you think are the appeal of superheros in the modern age? Leave us a comment with your thoughts below. 

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