There’s a stereotype of kids, geeky kids, the downtrodden, the picked on, turning to comics. Sniveling losers in their mother’s basements, with rooms filled with comics.
Now I know that Barack Obama is a famous comic book “fan” and I know that comic books are the number one hit of the box office. But why?
Why are Superheroes in theatres now. Why is it such a stereotype that the losers read comic books?
Superheroes are, as Grant Morrison has subtly hinted at, our gods and goddesses. (This is not a new or especially shocking thought. It’s been around for awhile; most people think of Superman as Christ with a cape.) So what does that say?
When people are near death they turn to religion. Not always, as mentioned thought we’re dealing with stereotypes; just like I wouldn’t argue all comic book characters are gods (who would Booster Gold be?*), I wouldn’t say everyone turns to religion. Thus we’re making a wide, and sweeping, and bad general statement. But superheroes are, more or less, wide-sweeping general statements about parts of human existence so I’m giving us a pass, all right?
So. If we invariably take that superheroes are to us as gods are to others, and you take that we turn to gods when we’re near death or in sorrow, what does the fact that our superhero friends are exploding into the mainstream mean for us as a culture?
I don’t think it means we’re near death. I don’t think an Apocalypse is at hand. (Though I’d love to see the LaHaye/Jenkin’s Six-Billion-Casualties-And-Counting Jesus versus Superman. I think Supes would win.) I do think we, as a culture are depressed. And, so, depressed, we’re turning to our gods to guide us.
Superheroes mainly came about in the 1940’s. That’s when Superman debuted, it’s when Captain Marvel debuted, and it’s when a young kid named Stanley Lieber first entered the realm of comics, changing it forever.
The 1940’s were dark times for America. The Great Depression wasn’t that far gone. We were just out of one World War and it seemed like we were invariably heading towards another one.
We were slipping towards the edge to save us… and what did we find? Superman. Captain America. Captain Marvel. We found the superheroes. We created them, as Morrison has also opinioned, to save us — from the bomb, from ourselves.
We turned in our darkest hour, and cried out for someone to save us, and shooting down like a streak of lightning, there was Superman.
That’s why geeky kids turn to comics. That’s why the picked on and the down-trodden would rather read Spider-Man than Oliver Twist. It’s not because they see less of themselves in the world of Dickens than of Marvel — but in Marvel there is hope.
There is hope, with heroes. “I believe there’s a hero in all of us,” Aunt May says in the excellent Spider-Man 2. She talks about how heroes are inside of us. That’s a common thought about gods as well. Gods are manifestations of human emotions that we use to help us out when we’re in need. We are Gods, made real.
Superheroes are us saving ourselves.
That’s why kids need comic books. To see themselves, but better. To see that falling and getting back up, even when there’s no real reason to, is worth it. To see that even if you’re beaten down it does not mean you’re down and out. To see that there is a hero in all of us — great and small, good and bad (think of Lex Luthor at the end of All-Star Superman: he could have been great; there was a hero in him and he failed). That’s what superhero comics are there for — they’re there for the same reason that the heroes are:
To remind us of the potential we as human beings have. Superheroes are hope. And everyone needs hope, especially now. Global recession, environmental disasters, a global economy swirling in the toilet.
Mass chaos. Super villains. Real evil. Real terror. We look up to the sky and scream, “Who will save us?”
Superman. Superman will save us. And that is to say, We will.
We need hope. We need superheroes. That’s why they’re in our televisions, in our movie theatres — because we need them. They’re there for the same reason that heroes are always there. Because we need them. Because we need to be reminded of the greatness that’s within ourselves.
So that’s why when I’m depressed I turn to comics. To remind me that there’s a light. And to remind me of this, simple beautiful panel — that really, sums up everything I mean. This is what Superheroes are for us. This is why the world needs a Superman.
* Seriously. Any clues?