If you’re a fan of superhero media, you’ve probably wondered what it would be like to have extraordinary superhuman abilities of your own. If you’re a geek like I am, you’ve undoubtedly conversed at length on the subject with like-minded friends. Maybe there’s a hero with whom you particularly identify, one who inspires you as an example of selfless bravery, a righteous deliverer of justice.
For my money, the best superhero fiction doesn’t stop when the capes come off. I love to see the impacts of super powers on the heroes’ lives. For some of the characters, the negatives are trivial and easily overcome. My favorites are the heroes whose lives are messy because they choose to use their powers, even when it makes them targets of animosity. In no small part, it’s that decision, despite the complications and even suffering it causes, that makes them heroes. It’s the reason this type of fiction still appeals to me 30 years after I started reading it. I see it when I watch Batman don the persona of Bruce Wayne, while his need to dish out justice burns behind his smiling facade. I see it when I flip the pages showing Spiderman agonize over keeping his identity a secret from his friends and family. I see it when I watch extroverted Nightcrawler try to disguise his demonic appearance, so he can experience the simple joy of walking among other people, people who would fear or even attack him if they could see his pointy ears and tail.
Sometimes I read or watch this type of fiction and imagine myself in these same situations. How must it feel to be shunned by the very people you risk your life to protect? What must it be like to be hunted by the authorities even though you catch the bad guys too powerful for them to apprehend? If I could teleport myself away on a whim, what inner reserve of nobility would I need to stick around people who vilified me? Quickly I come to the conclusion that I’d be the worst superhero ever.
There’s no way I could maintain a dual identity. I have enough trouble switching among father, employee, writer, and husband. I space out thinking about what I’m writing when I should be doing other things. And I get caught doing it all the time. If I were Spiderman, I would show up to work in my spandex. I could pretend I thought it was Halloween only a couple of times before I got fired or committed. Work all day and fight crime by night? Uh, no. It’s hard enough to find time to blog and get on the treadmill for an hour before I fall asleep. I can’t imagine patrolling the city for hooligans after a full day of work. Unless I could sleep at work, I just couldn’t do it. Even if I had a super power, I would be too tired to use it. Aaron Hamilton, part-time crime fighter when there’s nothing good on TV.
The Daredevil series on Netflix did an excellent job of showing the physical punishment he received even when he walked away victorious from his scuffles with criminals. The obsessive determination he employed to fight crime night after night, after each narrow escape of death, left me questioning my own resolve in much easier situations. I heroically drove a car without air conditioning for two summer months. Once I mowed the lawn when I didn’t feel well. That’s about the limit of my perseverance in the face of adversity. Even with superpowers, I have a feeling I would skip a lot of nights patrolling the city if I felt a cold coming on.
I expect my heroes to be better than I am, and I hope the world never tips on the brink of destruction with only me to save it. I guess the only way to know for sure if I would suit up to save humanity is if I were the recipient of some kind of superhuman ability. Pretty unlikely that will happen, I think, but you never know. For everyone’s benefit, I hope some nobler guy or gal gets bitten by the radioactive spider.