My sister Joyce got re-married yesterday, and it was great. At the reception, I met some new cousins, and we bonded over discussions of comic book mythology. One subject was the reason DC is struggling in the cinema (but producing really good television animation). There are a lot of layers here, but part of it is that Zach Snyder doesn’t really seem to believe in heroes and heroism, and in trying to imitate the success of “The Dark Knight” they gave the reins of their universe to a man who doesn’t share a core philosophy with the mythology that birthed it.
“The Dark Knight” works because Batman is…well, he’s a figure of fear: “Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot, and my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts.” Right? He is angsty, and in class “dark” mode never got over losing his parents, which implies psychological dysfunction to ME. The twisted world of sociopaths and warped sexuality makes total sense.
But Superman is not a figure of fear. He is a figure of INSPIRATION. The classic character is “the Big Blue Boy Scout.” He stands for “Truth, Justice and the American Way.” If THAT character is angsty…we have a problem.
I mean, if a movie-star handsome being with godlike powers who, in this incarnation, can even get laid, who is adored by the planet…if THAT being is depressed, what hope is there for the rest of us? If we accept THAT being as struggling with his emotions, we might as well give the @#$$ up. It is a pale and terrible world IMO. That creature is not a source of inspiration. We would spend all our time wondering when he would suicide and take us with him.
A very different being. And I suggest to you that THAT image, that hero, is NOT what we have loved for eighty years. It is a creature from Snyder’s world, and I don’t believe he would be capable of creating an iconic hero. No…remember his work on WATCHMEN, which I loved. He is a deconstructionist, untrusting of the notion of “heroes”, seeing in all of them a psychopathology that manifests as alienation (Dr. Manhattan), insanity (Rorshach), sexual dysfunction (Owl) and mommy issues (Silk Spectre) as well as sociopathy and self pity (The Comedian). Alan Moore’s vision was brilliant, and if Snyder’s version was almost slavishly imitative rather than re-imagining for the screen, I still thought he did a better job than I ever expected to see.
But that is NOT Superman, I suggest to you. And the fact that the Suits at DC brought him in suggests to me that they were not and never were comic book fans. They don’t “get” it, so they imitated the external structure of what succeeded with Dark Night, without asking themselves about the inner world of the fans.
What do we really want? If the Dalai Lama is correct that the meaning of life is to seek joy, then every action we take in life is trying to evade pain and gain pleasure. The degree to which maturation is the process of learning to postpone IMMEDIATE pleasure for greater long-term gain is a factor all parents must teach their children.
Our entertainments, then, would be things that adjust our tension levels up or down into an optimal range. Too little stress? Ride a roller coaster or watch a horror movie. Too much stress? Again…just as a hyperactive child can actually grow more relaxed and focused with doses of “uppers”, we can use suspense and even horror to make us so tense we become…relaxed.
But with our Superheroes, we want to see ourselves, or some idealized versions of ourselves, or some exaggerated version. The Hulk represents the anger we fear will rage out of control. Spider-Man deals with the guilt of a bad adolescent choice, choosing to dedicate himself to service. The Fantastic Four struggle to hold a family together under extraordinary circumstances.
Batman is the man who channels his personal demons into becoming a force even demons will fear, for the sake of protecting the innocent.
Wonder Woman is the outsider of pure heart, come to the world of Men to show the power of love.
Superman is the story of ultimate power combined with a clear and humane vision, a pure heart. The being who could rule the world, and instead chooses to serve.
This is primal stuff, because we all struggle with our sense of shame, or guilt, or fear. We all feel that disconnection from the world. We wake up in the morning unsure who we are, and go to bed at night without confidence that our actions have made any difference at all.
Well…we DO make a difference. We DO matter. It IS possible to know who you are. But we have to keep our eyes on the prize, or we’ll get lost in the small and draining tasks of life. The thousands of demands made of us every day.
These icons represent the core problems of life, and the human qualities that can overcome them. We NEED our heroes. All cultures have them, so I strongly suspect that they are a vital aspect of our cultural psychology.
If you are a writer, create your characters with care, understanding what your readers really want, deep inside: movement away from pain, toward pleasure. How does your writing serve that?
If you are a reader, then find the hero within yourself, understand their struggle, and find the resources you need to stand up and be the best you can be, every day, for the sake of your own heart, and that of your children and their children…or your nieces and nephews and neighbors. One way or another, find the strength to give every day of your life the meaning you deserve.
If you won’t…who will?
Be the hero in the adventure of your lifetime…
(P.S….Heroes have monsters and villains to trigger their emergency powers. You have the responsibility of finding a way to tap into your real identity, your heroic nature, even though life is more of a slow boil than a raging fire. Learn how at: www.morningwriters.com)