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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Superhero now: What is a superhero anyway?

Michael Clogston (JAY GELVEZON / AGGIE)
Michael Clogston (JAY GELVEZON / AGGIE)

I think if I had to summarize what a superhero is in one word, I would fail miserably. A superhero stands for too much that can be put into a single known word in the English lexicon. To me, however, superheroes typically have some common traits: a normal identity for when they’re not fighting crime, a tragedy that spurs them to action and a really unique costume. Now, there are a lot more of these quintessential traits, but listing all of them would take up this entire article. But, are these points necessary for a character to be deemed a superhero, and can a superhero still be a hero and save the day without traits like these? I say yes. But then what is a superhero anyway?

There has to be something so much more to these superheroes if so many of them have been around for over half of a century. There has to be something so important and necessary that we many still enjoy both the older and newer ones now and into the future. What superheroes stand for is a critical factor as to why they remain so popular today. Plus, just the idea of having superpowers seems cool. It would mean that we could all be the vigilante hero we were all told to be as we grew up, no matter who we were. But there exists a catch in this line of thinking: the idea entices us more than anything else.

Sure, having superpowers would be great. Super strength would mean that you would never be carrying too much. Teleportation would be awesome because you could just teleport to your 8 am classes or that business meeting halfway around the world. And who doesn’t want magic? But, if we all had superhero powers, what would happen? Destruction, chaos and unregulated vigilantes. That’s what would happen. Billions of dollars in damage, not to mention the lives lost in the process.

One reason I’ve been writing about the superhero for the entirety of this column is because of what they mean to me. They were my role models growing up because of how heroic they seemed to my six-year-old self. Heck, they still are heroic to me even as an adult. Superheroes represent that ability to intervene for the benefit of society and to help people out of good intentions. However, while this is my definition of a superhero, I believe that a superhero can mean something different to different people, and that’s the best part. No matter your likes or dislikes, there will most likely be at least one superhero that you can relate to.

If I tried to pinpoint the specific appeal of superheroes, I would fail because of how varied everyone’s interests are. But that’s beside the point. My other question that I want to address is: do we still need superheroes today?

I mean, if superheroes are supposed to inspire us to do good things and to entertain us, why can’t we get that with books? Why do superheroes remain when their powers, as awesome as they are, simply cannot exist in our world? In all honesty, I’m not too sure. Asking that question is like asking “why do we have books?” There doesn’t seem to be a great answer to justify their existence — they just seem essential given how integrated they are into our culture.

Superheroes and their comics are important to keep around because, like other fictional characters, they keep us inspired. They teach us that while it’s obvious they have a lot of responsibility, and they need to help as many people as they can, it’s okay for them to stumble every now and again. They are still people after all, usually. I mean, I love hearing that these superheroes mess up from time to time. Admittedly, their “messing up” had a much stronger impact than me forgetting to do my homework in elementary school, but this relatability that they were honestly just trying their best has always been, and will continue to be, one of my favorite parts about superheroes.

I may not have Batman’s sense of dedication, Iron Man’s intelligence, Superman’s sense of humbleness, Captain America’s loyalty (okay, I’m still seething about that new reveal, but that’s for some other time) and hell, I’m not even close to being as witty and snarky as Spiderman — but that’s okay. Because honestly, if superheroes were real, they would probably all tell me the same thing that I hear in pretty much every superhero movie: just be yourself and it’ll all work out.


You can reach MICHAEL CLOGSTON at mlclogston@ucdavis.edu


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