By Chase Robinson
Superheroes are a staple of pop culture. Costumed crusaders of various shapes and sizes have been leaping from the presses since Superman made his debut in 1938.
A basic dichotomy has existed in the realm of superheroes since the early days of comics. There are superheroes with superpowers like Superman and Thor, and there are superheroes without superpowers like Batman and Iron Man.
Fans of the genre frequently argue about which sort of hero is better, but the criteria they use to determine this can vary.
Some might argue that the efficiency with which these masked heroes fight crime is the most important factor. However, these are characters, not vacuum cleaners. Job-efficiency doesn’t sell stories. If it did we would find ourselves reading about top-notch accountants and charming salespeople.
Some might also argue that the mortality of the non-powered heroes makes them more interesting. Batman and Iron Man seem to be putting more at risk when they swoop in to save the day, but readers know that in a few issues things will be back to normal.
Heroes like Superman, Batman,
Spider-Man and Iron Man are too popular to permanently kill off. Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne, Peter Parker and Tony Stark will always be back regardless of how powerful they are. You can’t keep an icon down for long.
What makes a superhero great is how interesting they are. Readers look to comic books for escape from their everyday world, but they also want to identify with some of the problems that their heroes face.
The heroes who have great powers and great burdens speak to us on a different level than those who fight with grit and cunning alone.
Spider-Man has great powers, but he is still burdened with the everyday troubles of a young man along with the huge responsibility that comes with his powers.
Powers don’t make the lives of these heroes easier. Instead they complicate matters. Spider-Man has to balance his duty as a hero with the challenges of his life as Peter Parker.
Doctor Manhattan of Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” is all-powerful, and he still struggles to maintain relationships and understand humanity.
In “Kurt Busiek’s Astro City” a hero called Samaritan functions as a Superman stand-in. Samaritan has many of Superman’s amazing powers, but he’s too busy saving the world to live his own life and is constantly aware of the tragedies he can’t prevent.
These superheroes allow us to escape into a world where anything is possible. In comics there are invisible jets, gorillas bent on world domination, magic hammers, time travellers and psychics.
Despite all these far-fetched elements, an awkward teenager with the powers of a spider is still an awkward teenager.
This tells the reader that problems are inescapable. When heroes who can fly through the sky and lift cars with one arm still have problems and flaws it’s comforting.
Super-powered heroes have a special place in our culture. The tell audiences that having problems is OK. They allow audiences to escape the mundane world around them while still addressing the sort of problems most people face every day.