What Is A Superhero?
August 26, 2013

What Is A Superhero?

As an avid Marvel fan, I can recite multiple superhero names off the top of my head, including their various alternate identities (if they have one), their super powers, their country of origin, their personality, etc. In fact, the list of superheroes is so extensive and diverse, one has to wonder: what makes a person a superhero? Is it their power? Their ideals? What they fight for? Or even the challenges they overcome?  When going through the list of superheroes, there seems to be no common link between them all other than the idea that they all face some form of “evil.” Even then, there are still those who are considered superheroes, and others who are anti-heroes. So, what could be the connection?

When one thinks of a superhero, they think of their powers. Could there be an underlying connection? No. Marvel is an excellent example. The diversity of powers is overwhelming, without even considering that most of the powers all derive from various sources. Some powers are magic-centered (like Thor), science centered (whether self-created like Tony Stark’s suit or Hank Pym’s “Pym-Particles or even unintentional like the Fantastic Four’s or the Hulk’s), cosmically granted (like Nova’s), mutations (like the X-Men), alien tech (like Ms. Marvel), or even just hard-earned talent (like Hawkeye). The sheer diversity in powers themselves could fill an entire novel, without even going into great detail!

Some believe that it’s the heroes’ ideals and what they fight for that makes a person a “super-hero”. This is not necessarily true. An easy example would be a quick comparison of Captain America and Tony Stark. Captain America is the super-hero other super-heroes look up to; in many ways, he is a figure who does not just represent America nor even the best of America, he is what America should be, what everyone envisions the perfect America can be, a superhero for the American dream, not just in America but for the world. Tony Stark on the other hand is a futurist, a man of science, one who creates the best technology can offe,r but strictly monitors it for the betterment of society. His goals are science oriented and his actions are either to protect the future of humanity through science or to prevent the entire annihilation of Earth in moments of great peril. While their interests do often overlap, it is clear that their beliefs are not exactly identical. Thor has fought for various reasons whether to regain favor in his father’s eye, for glory, or to protect the humans he has come to love. The X-Men generally fight for the betterment of mutant-kind, in hopes of a peaceful future.

The challenges that heroes over-come are almost as diverse as their powers (if not more so!). Many must overcome personal struggles (Hawkeye’s criminal background, Tony Stark’s drinking problem’s, the complicated love of Scarlet Witch and the Vision, Wolverine’s mysterious history) while dealing with the near-infinite super-villains whose plans range from robbing banks to world domination to galactic destruction. The extent of a hero’s struggles seems almost proportional the extent of their powers making Spider-man’s most well-known line fitting: “With great power, comes great responsibility”.

With so much diversity, how can anyone decide what a superhero is? How can the writers at Marvel keep a link between so many unique individuals across decades of history? Simply put, there is one connection tying all these heroes together: every superhero, no matter who they are, no matter what struggles they have, put aside their personal problems to fight for the betterment of others. Every super-hero makes large sacrifices, both for the important people in their lives and those they don’t even know. Each one struggles for various reasons, but all fight in protection of the weak, to defend those who are helpless to help themselves. A superhero is not judged by his strengths nor his weakness nor even by his tasks, but by his commitment and efforts to save others that may or may not even want their help. With this in mind, a superhero can be anyone, no matter their powers, characteristics, or even silly spandex suit, yet still have the one trait every hero needs.

Image Credit: Thinkstock.com

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