Why We Love (and Need) Superheroes

There’s no denying superheroes hare firmly rooting their place in American pop culture, and the love of them has never faded – it’s only intensified.

“I just finished XYZ show, what should be next in my Netflix queue?” Who hasn’t asked that burning question to the Facebook world? 

My Netflix queue is a decidedly beautiful mix of British baking shows (I blame Mary and Paul for my baking addiction) and all of the superhero shows on Netflix. “The Arrow,” “Flash,” “Legends of Tomorrow,” and “Agents of Shield” to name a few. I love super heroes so much I named my dog Barry – yes, after Barry Allen aka the Flash.

This past weekend, we had a “Marvel weekend” – “Thor: Ragnarok” at the theaters on Saturday and Marvel Live with the kids on Sunday. At some point during the weekend, my husband leaned over to me and whispered, “Thanks for liking dude flicks.”  I bristled. “Thor” isn’t a dude flick, it’s just a flick, and a very good one to boot. Superheroes are not just for guys. But his question got me thinking: why do I love super heroes so much? Why does anyone love them?

A quick backstory on super heroes

The first comic book, called Famous Funnies, was created in 1933 and was basically a book of comics that were typically featured in the newspaper. While those early comics were “funnies,” the 1930’s comics changed the comic world forever by the inclusion of superheroes. The earliest superheroes exploded onto the scene, and it doesn’t seem surprising to me that there would be such a huge draw to heroes in an era of war and unpredictability. If the world needed heroes, surely it was then.

The next wave of heroes came during the 60’s. In 1961, Stan Lee created the Fantastic Four comic. Again, it’s not surprising that the social environment of the 60’s would create a need for more heroes.

There was no denying that superheroes were firmly rooting their place in American pop culture, and the love of them has never faded – it’s only intensified. Over time, movies were produced (and dozens of reboots) and eventually the superhero marketing targeted children. From TV cartoons to action figures to costumes, kids quickly fell in love with their favorites.

Now our love of superheroes continues to grow. Instead of cartoonish or cheesy movies, the superhero TV shows and movies are become more realistic and more intense. It’s becoming much easier to suspend belief because it just looks so believable. The love of superheroes isn’t just reserved for kids who love superman action figures or collectors who want the oldest comic book.

The questions remain, why exactly do we still love superheroes almost a century later? What do heroes offer us? Superheroes are a foundational part of American culture, and there’s something for everyone, I promise.

Kids

We’ve heard a million times that kids are sponges, absorbing all that they see and hear. It makes sense that they want to imitate one of the good guys in a show or cartoon. To a child, a superhero is magical. 

My youngest can often be seen sporting a Spiderman costume. He’s even slept in it multiple times. When I asked my five-year-old why he likes the Flash, he said, “He’s fast. He’s brave. I want to be just like him.” There you have it, heroes offer kids something to aspire to. It’s not just their powers but their personality traits too: bravery, caring, thoughtfulness, selflessness.

Tweens and teens

While younger kids may idolize the traits of a specific hero, teens can begin to follow the more intricate aspects of being a hero: the struggle between self and others, balancing the selflessness without losing the self. These are lessons perfect for a teen who is becoming more and more him or herself each day. These are big struggles for every person, but seeing it acted out makes it easier to choose the right thing.

Adults

Perhaps the most important thing that heroes offer us is hope. There’s no coincidence that the American superheroes appeared during a time in history where hope was at its lowest. We still need that hope today, and that there’s never been a bigger love of heroes.

So we look beyond the supernatural aspects to the heart of what the heroes stand for: hope for peace, hope for a better city, hope for the world. There are also real life heroes among us today, like the police, emergency responders, firemen, and our soldiers. We play out our fears through the stories of the heroes, and we can actually see how our real heroes of today fit into the stories of the superheroes. How often do we see a good police officer helping out a superhero? And Captain America was a solider. Super heroes are our link from the supernatural to reality.

Romantics

(Even the romantics can get something out of the stories of the heroes.) Have you ever noticed that many heroes also have love interests? Spiderman has MJ, Superman has Lois, and Barry has Iris. Just because there’s action in a story doesn’t mean it can’t also have love. 

Isn’t that a more accurate representation of life? Life isn’t just action and it isn’t just pure romance either. I consider myself a big romantic and following the love stories within the bigger plots is one of the reasons I like the superhero movies so much.

Sure, the Greeks have their own wonderful hero stories, but those stories are unique to the culture and times of the ancient Greeks. Our superheroes are unique to the culture and times of America. Next time you’re in the toy aisle and your child wants a superhero toy, give in… and then act out a superhero story with them.