I have continued watching historical documentaries about the superhero genre and I came across new information. In our darkest times, America needs heroes. Superheroes may be fictional, but they are still important symbols that reflect America’s current state of mind. This was reflected in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
There was a Captain America graphic novel called The New Deal, which depicted Captain America trying to find survivors in the rubble of the World Trade Center. Later in the story, Captain America battles a terrorist cell as they threatened a small town. In the end, Captain America punched the terrorist leader so hard that he broke his neck and twisted his head all the way around. Even though the aftermath of the 9/11 attack was depicted at the beginning, the later battles deviated from 9/11 just enough to prove the same point. The point that was being proven was the American peoples’ strong desire for justice against terrorists and who better to show this than America’s best patriot. The writers and illustrators used the creation of this graphic novel as a form of therapy to deal with their emotions regarding the 9/11 attack.
When New York City needed time to unite and heal, the Tobey Macguire Spider-Man trilogy was released. The reason Spider-Man was an important superhero at this time was because he was a New York superhero, the Kid From Queens. Spider-Man symbolized our desire to help one another in times of darkness and the film trilogy was helpful to remind people of those values.
However, the Spider-Man trilogy provided a temporary release in an increasingly complex world. To depict the growing complexity of the post 9/11 world, the Dark Knight Trilogy was released. In those films, Batman’s rogue gallery were not just supervillains but terrorists as well. Batman Begins revolved around fear and how to overcome it, which highlighted the fear that America felt in the wake of the 9/11 attack. In The Dark Knight, Batman was seen battling not just the Joker, but also the difficult questions that we deal with in the real world in terms of terrorism. To find the Joker, Batman turned every cell phone in Gotham City into a microphone in order to better pinpoint the Joker’s location. Batman’s armorer, Lucius Fox described this as “beautiful, unethical, and dangerous”. With this new system, Batman would definitely find and stop the Joker, but at what cost? This concept reflected on the Bush Administration’s policy to bug emails and phone calls without a warrant.
On the downside, as fear of future terrorist attacks grew, so too did hatred and prejudice against Muslims. To counter the growing Islamophobia, Marvel Comics created a version of Ms. Marvel known as Kamala Khan. Kamala Khan is a Muslim American superhero who demonstrated that not all Muslims were terrorists and to highlight America’s ever-growing diversity. Kamala Khan has a similar backstory to Peter Parker, a superhuman teenager who juggles her double life as a high school student and a vigilante. Even though Kamala Khan is a fictional character, the message she was conveying made its point. The character was a complete success to the public. In one instance, there was hate speech graffiti against Muslims painted on the side of a bus. In response, comic book fans painted an image of Kamala Khan over the hate speech.
Overall, even though the real world will never see superheroes, the messages and symbolized that they convey are very significant. Even in our darkest hours, the constantly evolving image of the superhero inspires the public and gives them hope when none can be found. Although superheroes can depict an idealized version of ourselves, they can also be used to highlight the constantly growing complexity of the world around us.