My Favorite Superheroes

Well, today it is time for something a little lighter. Violence and education in America seemed like two heavy topics and if you have read those blogs, you have probably had enough philosophy for a while. So today let’s talk about something that most of us can relate to. The topic is Superheroes.  Now depending on which generation you belong to you will no doubt have a different catalog of Superheroes. In fact, when I was a kid, I did not know what a Superhero was.  The term seemed to emerge somewhere in the 60’s when heroes became even more wonderful, awesome, spectacular, powerful and fantastic than any “heroes” who had gone before. But if we go back to perhaps the first heroes; we can find some equally powerful and spectacular men and women.  These first heroes include: Achilles, Athena, Atlanta, Diana, Beowulf, Hercules, Odysseus and Penthesilea. I am not enough of a historian to pretend to know how the ancients viewed these Superheroes or how they actually played a role in their lives. (A disclaimer here!  Many Superheroes are actually Superheroines. History is full of powerful extraordinary women who merit mention and I will try to pay homage to them as well. However, to simplify my writing I am using the term Superhero to include both men and women).   

In my youth (I was born in 1946) most of my heroes were cowboy and cowgirl stars who played in early movies made prior to WWII.  With the advent of TV in the early 50’s, many of these early movies were serialized on TV to provide content for the first stations.  There is no comparison to the elaborate system of content that is available to TV watchers today.  Many older people will remember only two or three channels that went off the air at 10 or so PM.  You could then sit and watch the channel test pattern that would emerge on the screen.  However, just before the test pattern came on, you would have a chance to hear the national anthem. It is difficult to imagine anywhere in the world today where you can’t find a TV program on anytime of the day or night.

This is an example of a test pattern from channel 4 in Dallas, Texas. 

My early heroes included such dashing figures as: The Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, Lash Larue, Cisco Kid, Zorro, Flash Gordon and the Phantom.  Some of the early women heroines that went from movie to TV included: Annie Oakley, Dale Evans and Calamity Jane.  Many of my other heroes came from comic books but only a few of them managed to get a TV show. I presume it was because the special effects of the time were not up to depicting the abilities necessary to show them as Superheroes.  Nevertheless, some early era Superheroes did make it to TV during the late fifties and early sixties. These included: Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Some of the Superheroes that emerged in comic books during the sixties included: Electra, Thor, Hulk, Daredevil, Fantastic 4, Firestar, Prince Namor, Wolverine, Invisible Woman and Spiderman,(Just to name a few). The Hulk managed to get a TV show in the later 70’s, but the full panoply of Marvel Comic and DC superheroes that was emerging to supplant many earlier and now more boring and mundane heroes would have to await the technology for film making that we now have in the 21st Century. These Superheroes are now being depicted in our movies with a wonderful array of special effects that provide thrilling viewing and almost unimaginable lifelikeness.  Some of you will remember the early George Reeve Superman shows where you could almost see the strings attached to helping make him airborne.  Special effects have come a million miles in the last twenty years.

Surprisingly, it is not the awesomeness or super-abilities of these later Superheroes which I most remember.  It is also not the most powerful Superheroes whom I most admired.  In fact, some of the heroes I most admired were some of the least awesome figures in terms of super natural powers. I admired Hopalong Cassidy because of his sense of humor and his kindness to others. I will never forget the scene where he brings his sidekick and friend Windy (played by Gabby Hayes) a pipe as a gift. I admired the Lone Ranger because he was a stand-up guy who would risk his life in the pursuit of justice. I admired the Phantom because he was always out to help others regardless of color or creed.  No neuroses, no melancholy, no sexual hang ups for my heroes. They did the right thing because they wanted to stand up for freedom and justice.  They put their lives on the line for no gain and without expectation of kudos, medals or even getting the girl at the end. In most cases, there was little sexuality depicted on any of these shows so the best we could expect was the hero might kiss his horse.

Well, of course, heroes and heroines change over the generations and my early heroes are just as unrealistic as the Thing or Captain America or Black Widow.  But what is the point of a Superhero or Superheroine anyway?

“Although we find it true that heroism is in the eye of the beholder, we do acknowledge that people’s beliefs about heroes tend to follow a systematic pattern. After polling a number of people, we discovered that heroes tend to have eight traits, which we call The Great Eight. These traits are smart, strong, resilient, selfless, caring, charismatic, reliable, and inspiring. It’s unusual for a hero to possess all eight of these characteristics, but most heroes have a majority of them.”
(Scott T. Allison & George R. Goethals, “Our Definition of ‘Hero,'” 2011)

We look up to heroes because they provide a larger than life portrait of the kind of people we want to be.  Every one of us has the potential to be a hero and a Superhero is simply a manifestation of the powers we now envision possible to possess.  Wikipedia says the following about the term Superhero:

“A superhero (sometimes rendered super-hero or super hero) is a type of stock character possessing “extraordinary or superhuman powers” and dedicated to protecting the public. Since the debut of the prototypical superhero Superman in 1938, stories of superheroes—ranging from brief episodic adventures to continuing years-long sagas—have dominated American comic books and crossed over into other media. The word itself dates to at least 1917. A female superhero is sometimes called a superheroine (also rendered super-heroine or super heroine). “SUPER HEROES” is a trademark co-owned by DC Comics and Marvel Comics.”

However, if we include many of the early historical figures that I mentioned before in my list of Superheroes, we can see that superheroes went back much further than the usage of the term. (I am referring to such figures as Hercules, Achilles etc.) I would argue that each of these earlier Superheroes possessed the “eight traits” of a hero as well as most of the common traits of a Superhero that are described in the Wikipedia article on Superheroes.  (See the Wiki article for a description of these traits.)

Thus, throughout history, men and women have wanted to have role models that were larger than life to look up to and to help guide them in their behavior.  This desire to identify ourselves with those who dedicate their lives to helping others speaks volumes about the innate goodness of humanity.  The next time you feel like the world is not as good as it once was or that you live in a time of trouble and turmoil, think of the heroes and Superheroes that most people want to be like. You can then thank God that most people do not want to be like the villains that our heroes are continually battling.

Ok, time for questions:

Who were your heroes/heroines when you were growing up?  What did you most admire about them?  How did your heroes/heroines change as you aged?  Why did they change?  What do you most want in a hero/heroine today? Do you think children need role models?  Are role models the same as a hero/heroine?  How are they different?  Should we get away from the idea of Superheroes?  Are Superheroes just a Madison Avenue contrivance or do they serve a role in our society?  Who are your favorite Superheroes?  Why?

Life is just beginning.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jeanine
    Mar 01, 2013 @ 14:07:26

    WONDER WOMAN!! Lynda Carter layed Wonder Woman and had my favorite characteristics. Raven black hair, blue eyes AND a 22″ waistline accented by her WONDER BELT!!
    Loved your blog John, Very entertaining!! I look forward to many more. Just added you to my favorites!!!!!!



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