The Definition of a Superhero (Pt. 2)
In The Definition of a Superhero (Part 1), I proposed that to be a “superhero”, a person (or alien, creature, demi-god, etc.) must fulfill three core pillars of super-heroism:
* They right what’s wrong.
* They help others first.
* They protect the vulnerable.
These three pillars are nothing new. From reading comic books or watching the latest superhero blockbuster at the multiplex, we know that all superheroes do these three things. But there is an “aha!” moment: these three pillars have nothing to do with possessing x-ray vision or sonic speed. We can all right what’s wrong, help others first, and protect the vulnerable.
But, you ask, what’s so “super” about “superheroes” if just anyone can be one? Well, I’m glad you asked. Like any good superhero franchise, the definition of a “superhero” was set up to have a sequel.
So, what separates a superhero from the masses? One word: choice.
Every superhero has an origin story. Spiderman was once geeky Peter Parker, beat up by schoolyard bullies and ever-late for the big yellow school bus. Iron Man was once billionaire genius and weapons manufacturer Tony Stark, constantly in the tabloids for his playboy antics. Superman was once Clark Kent, alien-turned-Kansas-farm boy just trying to fit in.
In each of these stories, our superhero makes the conscious decision to fulfill the three pillars of super-heroism. Bestowed with supernatural powers from a radioactive spider bite, Peter Parker at first seeks to use his powers to win the girl of his dreams. Following the death of his beloved Uncle Ben, he realizes the full potential for good his powers provide and makes the choice to put his own wants and desires aside to serve the public good.
Tony Stark is content using the wealth he has amassed through weapon sales to enjoy being the world’s most eligible bachelor. After learning the harm these weapons bring through his own kidnapping, Tony Stark has a change of heart and decides to become a force for good in the world.
Like any teenager, Clark Kent spends his youth trying to fit in - not easy to do when you are a Kryptonian living on Planet Earth. When the planet is threatened by General Zod, Clark Kent chooses to expose the Superman within and freely submits himself to humanity.
These choices were not easy, nor were they made lightly. We are all presented with choices in life and doing “what’s right” can at times be unclear. The choices available to us vary wildly as well: Bill Gates has the resources to end malaria; others can choose to give up their weekends to campaign for a new high school.
In the end, anyone can fulfill the three pillars of superheroism. Not everyone chooses to do so. Those who do… well, in my book, they’re the real superheroes.