The comic book world is truly a fortunate place to live in. In it, nearly every city of the United States, as well as many around the world, are inhabited by one or more costumed guardians. Certain comic book cities, Marvel’s New York City or DC’s Gotham City for example, are meta-human hot spots, boasting an incredible population of super-heroes. To live in the comic book world is to live in a world where fear is remote, and hope replaces dread on the nightly news broadcast. Young children can go to sleep with dreams of becoming the next Iron Man, rather than staying awake, frightened of the harm that the adult world could bring them. Whether it’s a robotic madman threatening the population or an intergalactic world devourer, the heroes always swoop in and gloriously fight the evil away.
The real world, however, is something quite different. It’s a world of ordinary human beings who must protect each other. It’s a world where a bright shiny metallic suit and a magical alien ring aren’t around for the noble ones to use when innocent life is threatened. It’s a world that isn’t simply black and white, where “innocent life” is questionable, and the noble ones keep dark secrets. It’s a world where the good guys lose. The comic book world is the bed time story, the real world is the nightmare.
But unlike a nightmare, the real world is not without hope. As flawed and perilous as it is, it still has its heroes. Our heroes range in type from those who existed in the past or in religious legends, to those who live today and persevere to raise the quality of life of other human beings. All of whom elevate the spirit of mankind and inspire others through their sincere desire to work towards a better tomorrow.
Thousands of people make the choice everyday to give everything for the good of the people, in spite of not being born with super powers. They protect a city, they answer a call, and they’re rewarded by helping or protecting others. Just as in comics, it takes a certain type of person to rise to the occasion and perform feats of heroism. Although they aren’t super-heroes, their deeds are enough to put them on a level above the common person.
On the television, it is more common to see people feigning heroism rather than actually being heroic. In the first issue of his groundbreaking series Ex Machina, Brian K. Vaughan made the point that the election of action movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger to the office of Mayor of California (or, for that matter, President Bush’s war hero/cowboy posturing in the weeks after the Iraq invasion) could be attributed to peoples desire for real life heroes to protect them in the post-9/11 world. It seems that people in such positions are only hoping to take advantage of this vulnerability, but sometimes those that pretend to be heroes really are.
A shining example of this was when the late Superman actor Christopher Reeve took it upon himself to travel to Chile in 1987 to rally against the country’s ruling despot, Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet was planning to execute 77 of the nation’s actors and writers for producing works that questioned the Chilean government. Because of Reeve’s movement, Pinochet released the 77 detainees and later resigned.
But while alien genes or special mutations might decide whether or not a hero is super, the concept of a costumed crime fighter is a different matter. The idea seems to make sense on paper, a Good Samaritan fighting injustice while hiding their identity by using an icon that other people can stand behind. It might seem deranged and immature to witness someone actually attempting costumed heroism, but, sure enough, around the globe, brave individuals have begun to don masks and protect their communities like a modern-day Zorro.
In Jackson, Michigan for instance, a man called Captain Jackson has taken it upon himself to patrol the streets of his town and report crimes. He is a police sanctioned “Independent Crime Fighter” and operates with a team of others like him known as the Crimefighter Corps. There is also New York City’s Terrifica, a golden-masked, female crime fighter that protects other women at parties and bars from being taken advantage of by men. Mexico City has Superbarrio, a wrestler-like hero that fights for political causes, while London has Angle-Grinder Man, a vigilante that grinds through wheel clamps.
Real-life costumed crime fighter, Captain Jackson
Mexico City’s Superbarrio
As ridiculous or surreal as these costumed heroes might sound, they must be appreciated for what they do. While far from being actual superheroes, they are passionate enough in their love for their fellow man that they would emulate comic book superheroes for the chance to defend them. This altruistic belief is the essence of the comic book superhero. As society becomes increasingly cynical, its people more and more cut off from one another, altruism is looked at as being naive or impractical. But it seems essential in a world of 6 billion other human beings to have to care about one another.
The loss of hope in the world is sure to lead to good people coming forward to restore it. A true superhero possesses not only the gadgets and gimmicks that provide an edge in protecting their community, but also a firm belief that the power to make a difference lies within the people of that community. It’s the fear of having that power, of rattling cages and challenging authority, which prevents such great heroes from emerging.
The superhero is a mythical archetype (so far) that is intended to elicit true heroism in the real world. We emulate their good deeds and aspire to have their same faith in humanity. But the superhero is only a muse, our inspiration for heroism. After that, it’s up to you. Perhaps one day we will live in the same security and hope as the people that inhabit the comic book world. Maybe someday the superheroes will come.