The thing isn’t that superheroes are imaginary, it’s that superheroes fight imaginary forms of evil. They are icons, symbols of something, that fight against tangible symbols of wider things.
I mean, sure, street crime is a problem in the inner cities, but you don’t necessarily need a big, scary, bat obsessed, rubberised millionaire to solve that problem.
Superman once took all the nukes in the world and flung them into the sun. I don’t know how safe that actually is, but it wouldn’t necessarily generate peace in the world, unless every nation really could stand in support of the clean cut, strong jawed icon of America as it wants to be seen.
A real superhero would be a terrifying super power, and likely to be politicised at best or commercialised at best. I was recently reading ‘The Boys’, one of several nasty, gritty and quite deviant deconstructions of the superhero notion.
At one point, the Legend, who writes the comics that narrativise the superpowered problems away, points out that very few super powers actually end up turning into super villains.
All the money (the safe money at least) is in maintaining the status quo, not challenging it.
And that’s the key problem with grand symbolic heroics. It’s easier to preserve away of life than to change it.
Me, I want a superhero that can change things. Actually make this world better. And I don’t think that’s a job for a superhero.
I mean, you could make a vaunted ‘Obamaman’ , capable of making all the changes that Obama promised (and is trying) to deliver. But he still wouldn’t be the man everyone wanted him to be. Obama shot himself in the foot by becoming a symbol of hope. Hope is so incredibly non-specific. It is a blank slate onto which anything can be projected.
This is perhaps why we love superheroes so much, and why reality has such a tendency to shatter them.
I mean I wish there was a way that you could have ‘the Arbitrator’ and for him not to be a Judge Dredd clone but actually someone who can get everyone sitting around a table and talking openly, honestly, and with a willingness to compromise.
That’d be quite a useful power.
Or the ability to make people see the big picture, and that it was more important than the little one. ‘The Perspectifier’ maybe?
The real impact of superheroes is that they can be badges for people to get behind. Their power is in the symbolism. But symbolism is both fragile and dangerous. It’s an uncontrollable power in itself. Liable to mutate and corrupt.
So maybe we should stick with regular heroes. People that work to make a difference. People that just live differently.
I don’t want to say we should be our own superheroes, so I’m going to change the subject.
My favourite super hero is Dream of the Endless. Not a real hero. Just a personification of something eternal.
Dreaming matters. So do it.
Illustration by Maria.