As an avid reader of superhero graphic novels, I thought of taking inspiration from various storylines and combine them into my own storyline for my upcoming superhero book. First, like The Dark Knight Returns, my superheroes will be dealing with a government who sees them as a threat to their credibility and authority. Second, like Watchmen, my story will take place in an alternate timeline. Third, like Captain America and the Falcon: Secret Empire, the primary villain of the story is the President of the United States himself. By piecing these ideas together, I have a very sturdy idea of how the story will unfold as I write.
I had an idea I would like to try for my new superhero story. I have always been a fan and admirer of Stan Lee, the founder of the modern superhero genre. I kept track of all his cameos, attended some of his conventions, and watched a number of his shows. Now, however, a bright light has gone out in the universe when Stan Lee died. He was two years older than my sainted grandmother. Thanks to his decades of creating superheroes, Stan Lee has left an overwhelmingly fruitful legacy. He gave us superheroes such as Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, and the X-Men. To honor and pay tribute to Stan’s memory and legacy, I am thinking of basing a major supporting character in my new superhero story after him. The character will not share his name, but he will share some aspects of Stan’s physical appearance and personality. This character will serve as a homage and salute to this great man!
When Marvel Studios did a montage of all of Stan Lee’s cameos over the years in the opening of Captain Marvel, the only words that crossed my mind were, “We love you, Stan!”
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.
I discovered troubling facts about how the superhero genre survived the 1950s. After World War II ended, superheroes kept depicting themselves fighting the Axis Powers, but with the war over and no real enemy to fight, the superhero genre lost its flare with the public for a while. With the Cold War in full swing, America was forced into a sense of social conformity and strict political ideology. This was due to the fear that America’s way of life was being threatened by communist sympathizers in the country. To enforce this conformity and political ideology, Joseph McCarthy stoked fear in the American public. It was not just communists McCarthy was after. He was also a homophobic as well and described homosexuality as a cancer on the American soul. In addition, McCarthy perceived comic books and superheroes as a potential influence to the rise of juvenile delinquency.
Another man who shared McCarthy’s views on superheroes was psychologist Fredric Wertham. Wertham criticized superheroes such as Batman and Wonder Woman for having implied homosexual themes. He thought that Batman and Robin were more than just partners based on images in early comics the imply a romantic setting. With Wonder Woman, Wertham criticized her for supposed lesbian themes since she was born and raised on an island populated only by women. Although straight kids did not notice these implied themes, gay kids did and it meant a great deal to them. That terrified McCarthy, Wertham, and everyone who shared their views. The 1950s was a completely homophobic time and shunning homosexuality became part of the social conformity that the government was enforcing on the public.
Due to pressure from McCarthyism, Wertham, and other government officials, the superhero genre underwent a great deal of “censorship” changes. For example, you could not print a comic that had the word “crime” on it, show blood, or imply that a government official was corrupt. To counter the implied homosexual themes in superhero comics, a wide variety of changes were made. For instance, Captain America had a female sidekick for a time, Wonder Woman became weaker and more feminized, and Batman had female sidekicks in addition to Robin. To counter the idea of juvenile delinquency, superheroes no longer fought villains and became more concerned about minor things such as saving a school picnic. Wonder Woman was not only feminized, but she was later depicted as being more concerned about marrying Steve Trevor instead of rescuing him like she used to. All of these changes became symbols of the conformed status quo of 1950s America. Still, as troubling as these changes were, they gave rise to new superheroes such as Supergirl, Batgirl, Batwoman, and Superboy.
Even though comic book companies complied with the government’s demands to avoid political backlash, these changes almost destroyed the superhero genre for all time. To stay in business, comic book companies were forced to create cheap monster comics. On the upside, these cheap monster comics gave birth to Groot.
When the 1960s came, the superhero genre was able to recover from their near-death. With John F. Kennedy in office and the space program in full swing, the superhero genre was given new energy and material to entertain and inspire a new generation of readers. Based on all of these facts, I am amazed and pleased that the superhero genre survived after this much persecution.
In the aftermath of The Death of Superman, we were introduced to four new so-called “Supermen”: Superboy, Steel, the Eradicator, and Cyborg Superman. Even though each of these characters claimed to be the new Superman, I noticed that each of them represents a particular aspect of the original Superman. Superboy is how Superman would have turned out if he was raised by the Kardashians instead of the Kents. Superboy symbolizes the part of Superman who loves the spotlight as well as the fame and glory that comes from being a hero. Steel AKA John Henry Irons is a man wearing a mechanical power suit and a war hammer. Because Steel is a normal human, it would safe to say that he represents Superman’s humanity. The Eradicator is a Kryptonian artificial intelligence and is essentially Spock on a truckload of steroids. The Eradicator represents the Kryptonian or inhuman part of Superman. Cyborg Superman AKA Hank Henshaw symbolizes Superman’s power because his Kryptonian DNA made him strong while his cybernetics made him even stronger. Overall, because Superman was such a model superhero, there are bound to be others who are willing to take up his mantle and carry on his legacy.
Many people regard Bruce Wayne to be Batman’s secret identity. Personally, I think it is much more complicated than that. As the supervillain Bane put it, Bruce Wayne is the mask and Batman is who he truly is. That may sound like nonsense, but allow me to explain. From a psychological perspective, Bruce Wayne died in Crime Alley along with his parents. Afterwards, he became raw, untamed psychological power that took the form of the fragments of the Bruce Wayne persona. After years of training, the psychological power that was Bruce Wayne was hammered into his new personality: Batman. Batman is the glue that is holding the shattered remnants of Bruce Wayne together.
I just realized something! This year represents the 80th anniversary of the first publication of Superman in 1938. For eight decades, the Man of Steel has served as a symbol of hope for generations and inspired us with his epic adventures. I hope he continues to uplift us in another 80 years from now. Let’s hear it for the Last Son of Krypton!