For the longest time, the superhero has been our unattainable apex – for mainstream lads and lasses like Spiderman and Wonder Woman, the superhero is above and beyond the calls of duty, patriotism and honour that each of us strive for. Pitted against villains who embody all the hatred, racism and negativity that our real world adversaries exhibit, the superhero remains a shining beacon of hope and inspiration in an otherwise harsh world.
Almost every major superhero has some kind of situational genesis; Captain America, borne out of World War II conflict and punching Hitler from page 1; Batman, a vigilante spawned from the rise of popular culture and the original success of Superman; even the X-Men have their place, fashioned from and seen as an allegory for any socially excluded group from negroes to homosexuals. Each one, within different degrees, represents a tall, unbreakable paragon of virtue against society’s worries.
These days, though, we find we are unable to exist with only one situational superhero. Comparing our current global situation to that of Captain America’s birth – in the heart of World War II’s bitter struggle – there is no one hero we can rely on to oppose the problems we face. Instead of just having Green Lantern as a superpowered cop in the 1900s or Daredevil as the anti-gangster, we use all of them to deflect the blows the contemporary era deals us. Spiderman allies with Barack Obama, in part alluding to the global economic crisis. The X-Men stand together in the face of racial oppression, in a parallel to the current position of the gay and lesbian movements. Iron Man strides through warzones and mechanical enemies, assuaging our fears of impending world conflict with any number of nations at each other’s throats.
This last decade alone has thrown more than enough negativity at the world – 9/11, the war in Afghanistan, and other events that have pushed our planet’s inhabitants to their limits. The dark, cynical age of terrorism, a desecrated economy and public apathy is now balanced by the rebirth of the superhero as a strong mainstream icon. We now turn to them to give us what reality cannot – a way to defeat the manifests of evil, through escapist methods that we know we can never attain but still attempt to strive for regardless, through modes of magic, technology or even the innate willpower within the human spirit.
This is visible by the rise of movies, television shows and internet ARGs that all relate to our costumed crusaders. Having once been seen as something only utilised and enjoyed by “nerds” and “weirdoes”, comic book and graphic novels sales are on the rise. The two big companies are now churning more and more of their properties into the big screen machine, drawing in millions in viewers and even more in dollar revenue. Walking through the Sydney CBD alone, it is difficult to not encounter at least a few people sporting Thor t-shirts or Superman messenger bags.
The superhero is now more mainstream than ever, because no matter how dark they get there is always light at the end of the tunnel for them. No matter how many times the Joker escapes Arkham or threatens to poison the reservoir, Batman defeats him and saves Gotham City from harm. The machinations of Red Skull and neo-Nazi terrorists in modern day New York are always inevitably thwarted by Captain American. Even the intergalactic nemeses of Sinestro and Atrocitus have their plans foiled by Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps.
Now and forever, the superhero is important and here to stay because, in the end, no matter how many times we face our own blackest nights, they are able to show us what will be possible – having our Brightest Day.