Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Guest Post: James Mascia on Why Superheroes are Popular

Superheroes have been around since the beginning of civilized society, the Greeks had tales of their gods, and heroes such as Hercules and Achilles. The Romans had Jason and Aeneas, Northern Europe had Thor and Beowulf. The one thing all of these characters had in common is they are more than human, usually in strength or cunning. In that sense, they are not at all dissimilar to today’s modern day versions of the superhero. Superheroes have been around for thousands of years, and they show no sign of disappearing.

Why do we continue creating stories, comic books, and movies about these great heroes today? Is it because they are great tales of the human condition? Or is it as comedian, Jerry Seinfeld, once said, “When men are growing up and reading about Batman, Spiderman, and Superman, these are not fantasies, these are options?”

In a way, I believe Seinfeld may be correct. There aren’t many people out there that don’t aspire to be something greater. And who hasn’t at one point in their life said something like, “I wish I could see through that wall,” or “I’d love to know what she’s thinking,” or even “If only I could turn invisible?” So, in part, I think seeing these superheroes, either in print or on the big screen, is a way for men and women of all ages to live out these fantasies for a short while at least. If they can believe for even a short while that a man can fly, then they themselves will be able to fly.

However, it can also be argued that these stories tell us more about ourselves. Like the tales of Odysseus and Thor told great tales of morality, The Flash and Iron Man also teach us a little more about ourselves. A very popular Iron Man story from 1979 called “Demon in a Bottle” taught its readers the dangers of alcoholism, and even featured, as did the 2010 Iron Man sequel, a drunken Tony Stark wearing his famed technological suit. Yes, we laugh when we see that scene, but our hearts also stop because we know just how dangerous a situation it is. Tony Stark wearing the Iron Man suit while intoxicated is no different than a truck driver on the highway after slugging back one too many beers.

If you think about it, what makes these characters so enjoyable to watch, is that because like Tony, they are, at their core, human. They have flaws, and great tragedies in their lives, and yet they overcome them to be the heroes we need them to be. I emphasize need because I also believe that as people we need heroes to look up to, to help us strive to be better. And real or not, these heroes are people, or in some cases aliens, we can look up to.

If you’re reading this article and saying to yourself, superheroes aren’t popular, look at this. The media has recently been overrun by superheroes, especially with the release of four mainstream superhero movies just this summer alone. Thor, released in the beginning of May, which tells the tale of the Norse god’s downfall and exile to Earth weaves the new age of superheroes with the old. X-Men: First Class tells the story of mutants fighting for their survival. Green Lantern is the origin story of a man who has a great ring of power that work entirely on the force of will. Then Captain America, coming at the end of July, shows the story of Steve Rogers, a World War II soldier who is genetically enhanced to become a super-soldier.

What do any of these characters have in common? Nothing, but they all have some power that makes them more than human. No matter what your view on the popularity of superheroes, there is no denying the fact that we love them.

And the popularity of superheroes is spreading. Where ten years ago, you’d be hard pressed to find many superheroes outside the pages of comic books or Saturday Morning cartoon shows, now they seem to be everywhere, even outside of the visual realm they have enjoyed for the last century.

When I began writing my novel, High School Heroes, which is a superhero story about a group of kids in high school with superpowers, the only novels you could find about superheroes would be the occasional Superman, Spider-Man or Batman novel, and even those would usually be based on one of the character’s comic adventures. If you did an Amazon search for “Superhero Novels” a year ago, you wouldn’t find many books that weren’t a graphic novel on their site. Do a search today for that same term and you can see several pages of content, none of which is comic book related. Since September, when High School Heroes was released, there have been no less than a dozen other novels in both print and ebook editions that have also been released including titles like “Sexy Superheroes”, “Nobody Gets the Girl” and “In Hero Years I’d Be Dead.”

Maybe there is no definitive answer as to why superheroes are so popular. It could be that they represent our need to aspire to something greater, or it could be because they show us the deeper parts of our humanity despite being “more than human”. I think it may be a combination of both. When we believe that superheroes can actually exist, we get that warm feeling inside, even though we know it is only a dream. So, I look forward to seeing more novels, comics, television and movies about superheroes coming out in the future. It appears that superheroes are here to stay and we better prepare ourselves for the next generation of them.

What if...you discovered you had the ability to read minds? What would you do with that power? On Christine Carpenter's first day of her sophomore year at Thomas Jefferson High School she makes a startling discovery. She can hear peoples' thoughts. After convincing herself she's not going crazy, Chris must learn to control her amazing mind-reading ability. Using her power she quickly realizes her crush, the captain of the football team, is also blessed with a special ability. She is soon sucked into a world she never thought possible when two more of her classmates, and a teacher, turn out to have powers as well. What are they meant to do with their special gifts that can either help, or harm others? Christine soon finds out when a monster, lurking in the depths of her school, threatens to murder the student population. When it becomes apparent that the creature is someone she knows, she must decide whether to try and save him, or destroy the beast. If she chooses destruction, can she live with the consequences? 

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1 comment:

  1. I love books with super heroes. What a great post!

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    Cory @ Anti-Drug Reads