In the grips of superheroes
Is there any person who at some point in life has not been fascinated with comic superheroes? Do you remember when you could not wait to read another volume of your favorite character’s escapades or were anxious to watch yet another cartoon episode of his adventures? Perhaps, you still like to be up to date with his newest undertakings; thus, you do not miss any high budget blockbuster based on his stories, or you secretly rubberneck when your child or a younger sibling reads the latest issue of a comic book devoted to your best-loved superhero.
There is no doubt that the heroes of American comics have had a gigantic impact on the world’s pop-culture. Even if you do not like this kind of entertainment, you are more or less aware of whom Spider-Man, Superman, Batman, or Iron Man are. What is more, you probably even know their real names, and you can up to a point tell a bit of their background stories. The adventures of superheroes have got their new quality and were given a chance of second life when Hollywood started making highly profitable and lucrative movies based on their adventures. The main characters are usually played by top actors, the special effects budget is enormous, and the profits the movies earn are beyond any imagination. All this allows the superheroes to be immortal and to gain new generations of fans. The comicbased films have crossed the boundaries of pure entertainment and became critically acclaimed pieces of art when Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight”, telling a story of the confrontation between Batman and Joker, won such laurels as the Golden Globe and Oscar for Heath Ledger for his outstanding performance as the Gotham City’s protector’s most infamous enemy. This proves that superheroes can always be re-explored, their stories can always be re-told, and there is more to this than meets the eye. Let us take a closer look at the most popular comic superheroes.
Born in 1932, Superman is one of the most recognizable and popular comic superheroes. An escapee from the planet Krypton was created for DC Comics by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster and is considered to be one of the biggest American and worldwide pop culture icons. It was Superman who helped to create the whole superhero genre. His symbolic S in a yellow pentagon has been the cultural symbol of character and force and is often used on T-shirts and other gadgets. His costume symbolizes American patriotism, as it is blue with a red cape, which can be easily associated with Stars and Stripes. He is also called “The Man of Steel.” His disguise in glasses and also the famous and dramatic gesture of unbuttoning his shirt before changing into a superhero (often in a telephone booth) have become iconic in pop culture and often parodied and imitated. His real name is Kal-El. He was born on the planet Krypton and was rocketed on Earth in a spaceship by his father, only minutes before the planet’s destruction. He was found and adopted by a married couple of Kansas farmers and was given the name of Clark Kent. He was raised with a strong moral compass and the duty of seeking justice. He started displaying his superpowers as a child; and mature, he started using them to the benefi t of mankind. As a grownup man, he started working for Daily Mail, a newspaper in the city of Metropolis, where he met his love interest, a journalist Lois Lane. Despite being honorable, just, and friendly t o w a r d s people, Superman in o r i g i n a l c o m i c books had an aggressive personality and was seen attacking and terrorizing gangsters or wife beaters. These features of his character were soon tempered; and nowadays, Superman is associated with protective and defensive attitude towards his foes, willing to overpower his enemies and hand them over to the police rather than seek justice on his own. Among his superpowers are incredible strength allowing him to prevent buildings or planes from falling, physical invulnerability, great speed, ability to fly, laser in his eyes, x-ray vision, superhuman vision and hearing. Just as in the case of any other superhero, Superman has had countless TV series, films, and cartoons devoted to him and his adventures. The most popular are the 1950’s TV shows Adventures of Superman, with George Reeve portraying the Man of Steele, the 1970’s and 1980’s movies starring Christopher Reeve as the protagonist, another TV series called Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, and the latest one, Smallville, a hybrid showing the childhood and teenage years of Clark Kent, opposite to other shows and films, which were quite faithful to the comic books. Superman has also been one of the biggest merchandize symbols. His logo is, without a doubt, one of the most recognizable among the superheroes, along with Batman.
One of the most popular and at the same time mysterious and murky superheroes is Batman, the Caped Crusader. He was created in 1939 by the DC Comic artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger. Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego has been known under diff erent nicknames, such as the Caped Crusader or the Dark Knight. He fi ghts crime and injustice dressed in a bat costume in the fi ctional city of Gotham. His path of vengeance starts when, as a young boy, he witnesses the murder of his parents. Being the only benefi ciary of his father’s fi nancial empire and with access to the company’s assets and weapon designs, a grown-up Bruce dedicates his life to avenge his parents by becoming a threat to all villains of the Gotham City. He has a very fi rm sense of justice, and he swears to face every possible criminal and danger that the city may witness. During day, Bruce Wayne is a billionaire, a playboy, and a philanthropist. He has no longlasting love interest; and if it were not for his faithful butler Alfred, he would be a lonely person with only very few people he can trust. Bruce had decided to hunt the criminals in the suit of a bat as he himself faced a terrifying experience of being attacked by a bat when he fell into a cave as a child. As the avenger, he decides to transfer his fear onto his foes, and he is soon known as Batman. His headquarters is the Batcave. His greatest allies are already mentioned butler Alfred, Lucius Fox, Wayne Enterprises’ brilliant scientist who supplies Batman with the latest weapons and gear, and Dick Grayson, who becomes Robin and fights the crime along with Batman. Bruce teams up with the police commissioner Jim Gordon to fight crime. Gordon is, however, unaware of Wayne’s double personality. Batman uses a lot of equipment to fi ght injustice, and he has no superpowers. He uses his cunning and the newest technology provided for him by Lucius Fox. Among the best-known bat-gadgets are:
- The Batsuit – Batman’s suit shaped to be associated with a bat. It consists of an armor and a cape which – unfurled – looks like bat’s wings and helps Batman to relocate swiftly and quietly.
- The Batsignal – a searchlight creating a huge Batman sign above the Gotham’s skyline used by the police whenever they need the hero’s help.
- The Batmobile – Batman’s car which has had many diff erent shapes and abilities depending on the comic’s generation and TV and movie versions of the story. In the latest Christopher Nolan’s version, the Batmobile was replaced by the Tumbler, a very futuristic-looking automobile. Batman’s another cruiser is the Batpod (also known as the Batcycle).
- Batman’s Utility Belt – Batman’s most characteristic weapon. It contains the majority of Batman’s weapons used during combat, such as communication equipment, handcuff s, tracking device, or miniature grenades.
- The Batplane and The Batboat
Batman – due to his costume and his background story – seems to be, without a doubt, of the gloomiest superheroes. Not only is he seen in a threatening costume, but he hardly ever talks, is not likeable , and has problems socializing. A very important factor in creating such a murky atmosphere is the city of Gotham itself. It seems to be a gigantic, soulless metropolis, unfriendly and even hostile towards its citizens. Some fans tend to call it “New York on steroids” due to its gigantic size and a countless number of skyscrapers covered with fog and shadow. Because of such architecture, Gotham City, although so big, seems to be overwhelming and unfriendly. The crime wave and the police corruption, gangs and crime families only seem to complete the city’s nightmarish image. Among Batman’s main enemies are Joker, Scarecrow, Catwoman, Mr. Riddle, and Harvey “Two-Faced” Dent. Bruce Wayne’s alterego seems to be so tightly connected with his personality and lifestyle that in some franchises, it was even questioned whether Bruce Wayne is not in fact an alter-ego of Batman. There have also been infamous comments on Batman’s alleged homosexuality because of his close relationship with Robin and lack of a female companion/love interest. After Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman’s Return, the very fi rst high budget, critically acclaimed, and greatly successful movie adaptations of the Caped Crusader’s adventures, the series faced a fall because of a far less successful Batman Forever and cheesy and ridiculous Batman and Robin. Batman’s new life in the cinematography started with the reboot of the story. Christopher Nolan’s Batman: Beings and The Dark Night not only reanimated the superhero for the mainstream viewers but also proved that a superhero story can be complex, psychologically deep, and truly fearsome.
The story of a teenage science whiz Peter Parker, who after being bitten by a radioactive spider, is gifted with great power (and great responsibility), was born in 1962 in the mind of Stan Lee, an American comic book writer and was given the shape and face by an artist Steve Ditko. Both of them worked for Marvel Comic – then, a small publishing house. Peter Parker is a unique character for a comic not only because a teenager became a protagonist of the story (teenagers were generally created as sidekicks for the main heroes, for example, Robin in Batman stories) but also because of his initial features of character. Peter is a shy orphan, a bookworm living with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May, and a science genius. Although he is an apple of his teachers’ eyes, at school, he is either bullied or completely ignored by his peers. During a science presentation, he is bitten by a radioactive spider, and this is a turning point in his life. Peter is gifted with the power of climbing and clinging to walls, jumping, perfect balance, agility, and super strength. He develops the spider sense, an ability which allows him to predict danger seconds before it happens, helping him to react instantly. Peter uses his intelligence and creates gadgets allowing him to shoot artifi cial webbing. Parker starts making money using his new abilities and soon becomes a popular person in local media, which makes him cocky. The price for his irresponsible use of powers is very high – Peter refuses to catch a thief who later on kills his uncle. From this moment on, Peter becomes Spider-Man, a vigilante who will track down and stop all sorts of criminals – from pickpockets to mad scientists who want to rule the world.
The phenomenon of Spider-Man is that, on a daily basis, he is an average teenager, struggling to make ends meet working as a freelance photographer for Daily Bugle newspaper, timidly and carefully gaining experience dating girls, Betty Brant and Gwen Stacy, only to fall head over heels in love with Mary Jane Watson. Peter’s superpowers do not dehumanize him; on the contrary, he needs to work twice as much and be responsible more than ever not to let his life fall apart because of living the double life. Peter Parker is an extremely dramatic character. He experiences many traumatic turning points (the deaths of Uncle Ben and Gwen Stacy), and he finds being a superhero so difficult that, at one point, he even decides he does not want to save the world any longer and only wants to be an ordinary student. His powers become his burden, make him unhappy, and cause a lot of stress between him and Mary Jane. The story of their relationship often touches upon such subjects as loyalty, faithfulness, and the constant struggle with the lack of security and peace and omnipresent disturbance. Peter Parker’s story is not only about the life of a superhero, but it is a very mature, multidimensional plot covering emotional and psychological needs and problems of the main character and his loved ones. He is a protagonist with whom many of his fans and readers can easily identify as they understand his dilemmas and what he has been through. What is also worth noting is the fact that Peter Parker’s territory is New York City, not any fictional place, and Spider- Man’s outfit has the American national colors, two factors that make him even more likable and appreciated as a “friendly neighborhood hero”. Throughout the series, Spider-Man has developed many new superpowers including biological webbing and night vision. His main enemies include The Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Sandman, Venom, or Carnage. Among countless comic book volumes, spin-off s, and cartoon series, high budget Spider-Man movies were released in the years 2002-2006 and earned over 1 billion dollars worldwide. The series’ reboot is expected within two years.
The three superheroes are a canon of American comic culture and are worldwide known and recognizable fi gures. Even though the origin of their powers and abilities are diff erent (Superman is an alien, without such background, he would not be any diff erent than other people; Spider-Man became a hero after a dramatic experience, and it was not exactly his choice; and Batman, although he has no superpowers, thanks to his intelligence and determination, becomes a vigilante and a scare for all criminals in Gotham City), they all have had millions of fans around the world. To sum up, it seems like the culture of comic superheroes has had an impact on entertainment worldwide and aff ected millions of people willing to pay for the movie tickets, dress up as their favorite heroes for Halloween or parades, and spend tremendous sums of money to buy an archive issue of a comic book dedicated to them. To many people, such love for a superhero may be considered childish, or even cheesy, but I believe the conclusion should be as such: Superheroes, unfortunately, will never help us in our lives, nor would they ever make it easier. However, they sure give us many social benefi ts (such as the possibility to admire the same hero as our children), provide us with entertainment, and make our world more colorful. That’s a pretty big impact for fi ctional characters, isn’t it?
Prepare a description of your favorite superhero, or try to invent a new one. For a description of your favorite one, try to fi nd as much information about the person as possible: the creators, some background of the character, superpowers, etc. If you invent a new superhero, come up with all the circumstances that allowed the hero to be born.
At home, search for and prepare a description of another superhero. Make sure you mention such features as special abilities, the origins of becoming a superhero, the costume, and some information about his or her social life.
Answer the questions:
- Which heroes were aff ected by animals?
- Which described superhero do you find most attractive, or is there anything you would like to change about him?
- Have you ever had any superhero you liked (like?)
Find out, with the help of a dictionary, what these words mean, and try to come up with your own explanations. Read them to the rest of the students to check if your defi nitions are correct.
imagination, immortal, protector, pop culture icon, invulnerability, murky, avengeance, philanthropist, headquarters, caped crusader , gloomy, alleged, cheesy, reboot, sidekick, cling, burden, freelance