WHY DO WE NEED SUPERHEROES?


I’m honored to have my friend Keith Walker as a guest writer today. Keith spent some time in Los Angeles as a director of development for a small production company as well as being a ghost writer on segments of scripts, freelance script reviewer, and also reviewed would be projects for Fox Television. He now is currently working on some hopeful TV and movie scripts. You might say Keith is scraping the bottom of the barrel these days as he helps me with a manuscript I’m currently working on, but the truth is, Keith is really just a great guy and God crossed our paths for a reason. Enjoy.

THE QUIET NATURE OF A HERO

There is darkness in the world. Where ever there is good, it is a circle of light encroached by the darkness. The dark tries to collapse the circle. Superheroes keep the circle from collapse. Not because of their powers, but because of their ability to inspire.

I heard an interesting commentary on an NPR show out of Boston called “Fresh Air.” A film critic proposed that the latest Batman trilogy has achieved a sort of mythic status amongst the younger generation below forty years of age. The films have a resonance similar to the Kennedy assassination or the power of the Beatles or even 9/11 to galvanize a generation and create an identity. There was an implication that this was a misguided or anti-social reaction.
I disagree.
Superheroes (Batman in particular) strike a powerful chord because they succeed where ordinary people fail. It’s not just defeating the villain or saving the city. At the core of every hero is a foundation of sacrifice. The hero can make the hard choice consistently. They can endure pain, suffering, disappointment, etc. far longer than we ordinary folk can. That is what makes them great and something to aspire to — not to have their powers or fight their battles, but to have even a portion of their strength to endure our mortal trials.
Now we get to The Dark Knight. The concept of Batman can be captured in four scenes.
In the first film “Batman Begins” Commissioner Gordon meets Batman on the roof of the police precinct, the Bat Signal blazing for the first time against the night sky. Together they have saved Gotham City, and for the first time in memory, there is a sense of hope.
Commissioner Gordon: I never said thank you.
Batman: And, you’ll never have to.
The message of sacrifice begins.
In the second film “The Dark Knight” the Joker has caused so much chaos that surrender seems to be the only viable alternative to stop further carnage. Bruce Wayne (Batman) asks his loyal friend Alfred . . .
Bruce Wayne: What would you have me do?
Alfred: Endure. Be the outcast. Make the choice that no one else will face. The right
            choice. Gotham needs you.
In “The Dark Knight Rises” Batman speaks to Catwoman before the final battle that will surely mean his death. She cannot understand why he would sacrifice himself after years of ridicule and hatred for his efforts. She says . . .
Catwoman: You don’t owe these people anymore. You’ve given them everything.
Batman: Not yet. Not everything.
Do you see the pattern? At every stage, the hero embraces sacrifice in the service of those he must protect. This is the siren call that draws us to such characters. Not the powers or the theatrics, but the unwavering role of the protector.
A person would have to be crazy to envy the life of a superhero. It is almost always a life of pain, loss and tragedy. The corollary to the Christian motif is plain. Take the story of Superman. His tale is directly Christ-like. The exiled child eventually becomes an Earth-bound god. After growing to manhood and searching for his purpose (substitute the Fortress of Solitude for the Garden of Gethsemane) Superman finally hears his celestial father’s words.
“They can be a great people, Kal-El. They wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. It is for this reason, above all — their capacity for — I have sent them you. My only Son.”
Contrast that statement with a line from the anti-hero graphic novel (and later film) Watchmen. The masked vigilante Rorschach stares down at the city from the rooftops and says, “The world will look up and shout save us, and I’ll whisper . . . no.”
The superhero never says no. What we envy and take courage from is their ability to never stop sacrificing. They never lay down their burdens at the expense of those they safeguard. They never put their needs before those they are supposed to protect.
I saw this failure when I was at the theater to see “The Dark Knight Rises.” I counted nine children who were too young to have the real-world violence planted in their heads. Their parents failed them. They weren’t strong enough to make the right choice.
We are the protectors of someone. We are all parents, husbands, wives, lovers, siblings or the children of our Elders. Whatever the role may be, we have a duty to protect. We will never be superheroes. But, imagine what we can be if we aspire to that level of vigilance.
A final line from the Batman films, a paraphrase.
“If you make yourself more than just a man, then you become something else entirely. A legend.”
We will not become legends. We will not save cities or the world. But, if we all forever struggle to make ourselves more what we are . . . then we will become better people. Better protectors and caretakers of those we love.
No costumes. No powers. Just better. The circle of light survives and just maybe the darkness is pushed back.