It’s no secret that “Captain America: Civil War” is a smash hit at the box office, and both critics and audiences agree that it’s an awesome movie–easily one of the best comic book movies ever made. Captain America and Iron Man both want the same thing: the betterment of metahumans fighting the good fight. But each sees the issue differently.
Now, this gets me thinking. Superheroes have been a thing since the 1940s, but only since 2008 have they really come forth as megahits in pop culture. Fans of every superhero, great and small, explore the nuances of and defend their heroes with almost religious zeal, comparing their stories, personalities, powers, etc. with those of other superheroes on a regular basis. And when those other superheroes’ fans come along and proclaim their superheroes superior, clashes ensue. But in the end, all superheroes serve the same purpose: as exemplars. Role models. Ideals for us all to aspire to.
In that sense, superheroes today serve the same purpose gods of religions past and present did for our ancestors.
Gods of different pantheons around the world also told fantastic stories and showcased immense power beyond mortal comprehension, but for the most part, they still had very human flaws. All of the Greek gods, for instance, were prone to immature squabbles that led to utter catastrophe, such as the Trojan War. The Egyptian gods too had a plethora of flaws, sometimes leading to family feuds that turned deadly, like when Set killed Osiris because he was jealous of his rule as king of Egypt. One could argue that even Jesus, the otherwise perfect son of God–and I’m saying this as a Christian myself–had a human flaw of his own: naivete, the clearest example of which being when he was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. He begged God for a way out of his fate. He didn’t want to be crucified. But in the end, though not without reluctance, he accepted his duty and chose to go.
Sound familiar? It should. It’s the exact same storytelling formula that we use today when crafting superheroes. And all those wars, those seizures, those so-called crusades? That’s just fanboy rage manifest before it could be channeled through other outlets, like the internet.
Nowadays, however, in our ever-growing pursuit of more complex and relatable “heroes” and storylines, we seem to have forgotten the actual purpose of a hero. We are to look at the heroes of those great stories and say to ourselves, “I want to be like them someday, if not more so,” yet all too often, we look for heroes to look at and say, instead, “That’s me. I’m doing it all in my dreams.” In other words, we look for people to inspire us to be less than what we are, instead of more. If the heroes we ought to aspire to could see that in us now, they’d probably shake their heads in shame.