A Guide for the Comics-Impaired
Ss-- Sooo-- Sooperr-- Superhero? I've never heard of that. What is it?
In very general terms, a superhero is a usually-fictional person
who has special power
s and dresses up in a fancy costume
to fight crime
and similarly-powered bad guy
s called "supervillain
points out that "super-hero
," with a hyphen
, is a trademark jointly owned by Marvel Comics
and DC Comics
. That's why I prefer it without the hyphen) The vast majority of superheroes appear in comic book
s, though they show up infrequently in movie
s and television show
"Vast majority"? Why come?
Well, the superhero is the primary player
in the modern American comic book industry
. There are lots of comics
out there that have nothing to do with people flying around in the long underwear
, but I'd guesstimate that 85-90% of the American comic book
industry is focused on superheroes. It didn't really get its start as a cultural concept
appeared in the 1930s
, but it's already traveled all over the world
So, all the superheroes fit that definition above?
Generally, yes, but there are a number of important exceptions. Superman
, the Flash
, and Iron Man
are all pretty obviously superheroes. But there are numerous characters who appear to be exceptions to the rules. Batman
, for instance, has no superpower
s, but he's got a cool costume, he fights crime, and he hangs with other superheroes.
, meanwhile, is the leader of the X-Men
, has big-time mental
powers and fights against evil, but he wears normal everyday clothing
. And the Hulk
is usually considered a superhero, but he spends more time fight
ing other superheroes, damaging public property
, and endanger
ing innocent bystander
s, which are all far from heroic acts.
There are even muddier cases. Characters like Doc Savage
, and the Shadow
would be considered superheroes if they got their starts in comics, but they didn't, so they aren't. Same goes for Edward Hyde
and Hawley Griffin
, who, despite their unnatural powers and their appearance in the "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
" comic book, are not and probably never will be considered superheroes. Same for the pantheon
s of Greece
, and Mexico
Even within comic books, there are characters who don't exactly fit the mold. There are pulpy science heroes like Tom Strong
and Adam Strange
, psychotic killers like the Punisher
, and comedic goofballs like Howard the Duck
and Lou Martin
from "Major Bummer
And both Jesse Custer
" and Spider Jerusalem
" have distinctive
outfits and uncanny
abilities (Yes, dammit, a bowel disruptor
counts as a superpower) and go on quest
s for justice
, but neither could be considered superheroes.
Wow! That was way more complicated than it had to be!
Thank you. We fanboy
s just live
for that stuff.
So how come so many of those characters have fancy-shmancy powers? Wouldn't the stories be more exciting if they were just normal people and didn't have to fall back on superpowers?
Well, remember that superhero stories are, deep at their core, power fantasies
. When you spend your school day getting abuse
d by bullies
, pestered by teacher
s, and ignored by cheerleader
s, it's fun
to read about a guy who can punch villain
s through brick walls, finish work assignments at superspeed
, and make all the pretty girl
So these things are just read by little kids?
Well, that's who they were originally sold to. To a certain extent, that's who they are still sold to. But quite a few adult
s read them, too. Some of them started reading when they were kid
s and never gave them up; some of them didn't start reading them 'til after they grew up.
Yeah, but they're all geeks and losers, right?
Oww! My gonads!
I certainly won't deny that many adult comic book reader
s fit a certain geeky stereotype
, but a wide variety of people read superhero comics, from pasty giggling fat guy
s to slick Hollywood studio exec
s. Some of them read because they enjoy the stories
(and make no mistake, today's superhero comics are often very well written). Some of them still need the power fantasies; try working ten hours a day for a petty tyrant
of a boss and see if you don't wish you could shoot lightning
from your fingers.
So if it's all about power fantasies, why are there any supervillains? Captain Marvel would feel really powerful beating up on junior high kids, instead of picking powerhouses like Dr. Sivana and Mr. Mind, right?
Well, that may be so, but it wouldn't be an exciting
story, would it? Superhero comics may start out as power fantasies, but they quickly move into standard adventure fiction
. And if your adventure hero
isn't worth challenging with opponent
s who can give him a serious run for his money, he ain't worth keeping around.
Okay, so what's with those weird costumes anyway? It's all sexual, right?
costumes are quite practical
, at least in the comics
. Sure, in the real world
, they'd make you an easier target
, they'd be a bitch to clean
, you'd trip
over the cape
, and the mask
would mess up your peripheral vision
, but in comics, they're primarily used to make sure the heroes (and the villains) are easy to identify. Let's face it, without masks or disguises, Clark Kent
and Bruce Wayne
could be twin
s. Without color-coded costumes and trademarked symbols, you'd get them mixed up all the time.
Sooo... it's all sexual, right?
Oh, and I understand that the first superhero costumes were actually based on the costumes worn by circus
Okay, it's at least part
sexual. Dude, do you know how many teenage boy
s bought "Teen Titans
" comics just 'cause you could see Starfire
's boobies?! It's not like we're the only obsessive perv
s out there. If John Updike
put a picture of Jennifer Lopez
in a thong
on the cover of his next book, it'd break sales records for sure! *
Jeez, defensive much? So anyway, it doesn't really seem like superhero comics are all that popular. I mean, it seems like they peak sometimes with some popular movie or TV show, but for the most part, they're completely off the radar of the mainstream. What's the future hold for superhero comics?
Good question. Some comics fan
s love superheroes and won't read any book unless it's got spandex jockey
s galore. Some hate superheroes and wouldn't read a long-underwear
book if it were written by Bill Shakespeare
himself. Some people say the only way to save the comic book industry
is to convince the general public
that superheroes are cool
so they'll buy comics. Some say that the general public will never believe that superheroes are cool, so the only way to save
comics is to quit making superhero comics
Meanwhile, the general public
doesn't really understand the appeal
of superheroes--and probably never will.
There's a lot of stuff that the general public doesn't understand
/msg'd me scant minutes apart to say they'd read that superhero costumes were so tight
because they were easier to draw that way. Clothing
is not an easy
thing to draw, compared to human anatomy
, so many artist
s would draw a human form, add some glove
s and boot
s, a mask
, and a chest insignia
, and call it a costume. Two of my e2comix
comrades /msg'ing me with the same info in such a short amount of time officially qualifies as an omen
, but ya know, I still look at costumes like Phantom Lady
's or Zatanna
's or Power Girl
's and think it must all be about the booty