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B&N Week 185: Why Do We Create Superhero Stories?

| July 8, 2014

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We’ve got another Tuesday upon us, so it’s time for another Bolts & Nuts question!

Why do we create superhero stories?

In America, whenever someone thinks of comic books, they automatically think of superheroes, and those superheroes are usually Marvel/DC. Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man, and usually in that order. Recently, with technology finally being able to keep up with our imaginations, we’ve got Marvel and DC virtually waging war in theaters. We’ve got other comic properties also on the screen, many of which most moviegoers don’t realize the properties were comics first. [Men in Black, Hellboy, A History of Violence, The Mask, and much, much more.]

But why do we create superhero stories in particular? What is it about the superhero that appeals to us so much?

People much more scholarly than myself will say that superheroes are the modern myths, much in the vein of the adventures of Hercules/Heracles and Perseus. Superheroes, some say, were created to suffer, because their suffering was akin to our own suffering, but the suffering of the superhero was turned up to almost unimaginable levels. Their suffering had to match the power they wield.

As readers first and creators second [because we have to learn to crawl before we can walk], we’ve fallen into the same thing. We’ve created superheroes that suffer, and as we’ve gotten older and more sophisticated, our suffering has grown, and as our suffering has grown, the suffering of the superhero has grown, too.

Growing up, my mother would watch her soap operas. General Hospital [although she didn’t like that one much], Days of Our Lives [I fell in love with Hope], and Edge of Night [I’m showing my age]. She didn’t watch As The World Turns. Her nighttime soaps were Dallas, a little bit of Falcon Crest, and some Knots Landing. I didn’t watch them all that much. Some Days of Our Lives because I wanted to see Hope, and some Knots Landing. I turned my nose up at them. To me, they were stupid. [That was the child me. The adult me still finds them stupid.]

I was more interested in action! The WWF [it will always be the WWF to me] was were it was at, and I had no interest in the WCW. I was definitely a Hulkamaniac! These were my heroes, getting their personal grievances taken care of inside the ring. And sometimes, things got a little strange and heated. Remember when Ted DiBiase tried to buy the championship belt from the Hulkster? Remember when Ted’s bodyguard, Virgil, had gotten beaten up for the last time and turned on Ted? Remember when Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage had that epic match that was two out of three falls?

These were the heroes of adolescents, because we could understand their struggles better, and what was said in interviews was backed up in the ring. These were the closest things to superheroes that we could get, because these were not only gigantic men, but gigantic men with rippling muscles that were extremely acrobatic, taking out their aggressions against each other in colorful getups and fanciful names. The Iron Sheik; Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka; Hulk Hogan; the Macho Man Randy Savage; the Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase; the Bird Man Koko B. Ware; Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat; Jake “the Snake” Roberts; the Undertaker; Mankind; George “the Animal” Steel… The list goes on and on. [And yes, old names. I don’t watch wrestling anymore. It doesn’t feel the same anymore.]

We knew their names, we knew their stories, we knew their struggles. Good guys versus bad guys, and sometimes the bad guys would team up with the good guys in order to take on an even worse guy. Just like in comic books.

Why do we create and tell superhero stories?

Isn’t that a great question? Because there are so many superhero stories and universes around, you can trip over one without even looking. I have three of them myself, one with a split timeline. ComixTribe has published three different universes [maybe two, depending on what Tyler wants to do]. Marvel and DC publish several as well, not including their own and their offshoots. The amount of different superhero universes that Image has published is almost ridiculous. And they just keep coming.

It’s my contention that the bulk of creators have a superhero universe in them they want to get out, or they want to tell a story using preexisting toys. Why?

The superhero isn’t going anywhere. If they are the modern myths, then there is too much interest in them for them to go away. Not with blockbuster movies being played around the world, and creators from all around the world wanting to play with or emulate the success of Marvel/DC.

Adolescent power fantasies? I don’t know anymore. They probably were at one point in time, but no longer. Not with the level of sophistication modern man requires from our stories. Back when comics were more innocent, sure. Now, though, innocence is often seen as bad storytelling.

As kids, we all wanted to fly, walk/see through walls, be invisible. Growing older, we wanted those things, but then more, such as teleporting and reading minds. Do we want even more as we grow even older? Or do our interests change?

As kids, we were interested in things like cake, cookies, and Jell-O, as well as ice cream, fruit, and gum. Does that mean we have adolescent tastes for these things as adults? I have a sweet tooth that really loves baked goods [cakes and pies, cakes and pies!], but I outgrew gum somewhere in my early teens. I don’t think that my tastes are adolescent. I like what I like. I didn’t like yogurt until I was in my teens. (Tastes change, Steven.)

And that’s exactly my point. Tastes change, and just because we want power as adolescents doesn’t necessarily mean that superheroes are those fantasies writ large. Some stories, sure. How some characters have been handled, definitely. But it doesn’t go for all superheroes.

Why do we create superhero stories? What is it that we hope to say with them? The answer is different for every one of us.

Time for you to examine your own reasons.

See you in seven.

Click here to discuss in the ComixTribe forum at Digital Webbing!

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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