Last weekend, Comic-Con descended upon Gotham City. The visitors and residents of midtown Manhattan never felt safer as there seemed to be a superhero on every corner.
Comic-Con is an event that I think everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime. It’s one weekend of the year where comic book fans of all ages can geek out and let their freak flag fly. Even if you’re not a huge fan of the genre, the spectacle that emerges in and around the walls of Comic-Con is worth a visit. Scores of comic book heroes and villains come to life, to appear and parade around to the delight of wide-eyed children and adults, like myself.
I’ve been a Superman fan for as long as I can remember. I gravitated to Superman in particular for several reasons. As a child, who doesn’t want to fly, and Superman could fly. As I got older, I physically looked a lot like Clark Kent, Superman’s alter ego. We both had black hair, blue eyes, similar features and build. Although I didn’t actually need glasses, I saved up to buy a pair of fake ones, in the thick, black signature style of Clark Kent. Wearing fake eyeglasses, pastel colored sport coats and parachute pants were popular, and regrettable, fashion mistakes of the 80’s that I wish I could take back. Thank God there was no internet or YouTube videos to document the offenses. With adolescence, the parallels between me and Superman seemed to intensify. Superman had a secret, a hidden identity that he didn’t want anyone else to know about. I soon came to realize that I did too.
The world needs heroes. Heroes inspire us to improve our lives. They elevate us from the mundane, encourage us to be a better person, and help us calibrate our moral compass. There is no question in my mind that the world needs heroes, but, why? Because a hero expands our sense of what is possible for a human being.
The word “hero” comes from the ancient Greeks. A hero, for them, was a mortal who had done something so far beyond what would be considered the normal human experience that he would leave an indelible memory and legacy behind when he died. That legacy would then receive the same worship and adoration as that of the Gods. Heroes came from vastly different backgrounds with vastly different talents, but they were all extraordinary, reinforcing that the biggest contribution heroes offer society is a reminder of the expansion of possibility.
What is it about heroes that we find so fascinating? It has to be more than a mask and a brightly colored costume. Heroes offer us an ideal to work toward. They show us qualities that we’re missing and educate us on what is considered right and wrong. They rescue us when we are in need. They can magically make danger disappear and make everything OK. Heroes give us hope. Heroes strengthen our morality by reminding us of our mortality. They prefer to solve problems through intellect, rather than relying on muscle or destruction. We depend on heroes to deliver justice.
It’s essential that our society believes that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. It’s a simple equation that is rooted in our country’s belief system and cemented in place by the Superman television series of the 1950’s, which demonstrated the Caped Crusader’s unending quest for “truth, justice and the American way.”
Perhaps the most important thing that heroes offer us is hope. It’s no coincidence that the popularity of superheroes surged in the 1940’s and the WWII era. Heroes offered hope to our country during a time when hope was at its lowest. Given today’s current political climate, inequality issues and consequences of our country’s healthcare system and uneven distribution of wealth, we certainly need hope today. Perhaps more than ever.
Fortunately, heroes don’t disappear with the last page turn of a graphic novel, or the closing ceremony of a Comic-Con convention. Real life heroes walk among us, living as everyday people. My number one hero is my mother. Kind of a cliché thing for a gay boy to say, but in this instance, it’s true. I also consider single parents, and parents of special needs children to be heroes. Nurses are heroes as are first responders of any kind. Anyone running into the fire while everyone else is running out, is a hero in my book. The men and women who willingly serve in our military and volunteer for the armed forces are heroes.
Heroism isn’t something we can only find in others; it is something we can find within ourselves. If the primary qualification of being a hero is being extraordinary – then each of us has the capacity to be so. We are all extraordinary beings, and our power comes from recognizing that.
If we look beyond the supernatural aspects of our superheroes, they aren’t much different than we are. Don’t we all stand for hope? The hope of peace, of a better life, of a better world?
Instead of holding out for a hero and waiting for someone else to save the day, why not be the hero yourself? The day will come when life will ask you, “Are you ready?”
Are you ready to be a hero? Being a hero means living a life where you can identify and embrace your faults, realizing that weakness is not only a strength, but also a gift that teaches us humility. A hero understands the temptation of power and the desire to feed the ego is a constant battle that rages on in everyone and must be contained. To be a hero means having compassion for those less fortunate, for the vulnerable and the defenseless while also possessing the traits of bravery, courage and teamwork. Heroes know that some things, like overcoming oppression and brutality or protecting the wellbeing of family or loved ones, may include great sacrifice, even to the point of death.
Just like the ‘societal misfits’ enrolled in Professor X’s Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, we are each born with a unique set of gifts. Sometimes our gifts are not readily seen as valuable or worthy. Maybe our gifts are deemed by others to be expendable or inconsequential. As the students at X Mansion come to realize, and as superheroes remind us, each individual has an innate responsibility to perfect their gifts and use them for the greater good, regardless of another’s opinion.
Heroes, of both fact and fiction, tend to discover that using one’s gifts towards a self-serving end can have disastrous consequences. It’s through these mistakes that we define our character, strengthen our integrity and hone our skills and gifts that will ultimately define our destiny. A hero’s power is strongest and best used in the servitude of others. A hero resides in all of us, but first we have to believe it.
The next time life beats you down, when hope seems lost or you’ve fallen onto a dark and dangerous path, instead of being a damsel in distress, looking to others, waiting to be saved, look inside. And when life asks you “Are you ready?”