Today I got into an argument. Today someone professed his love for Batman by saying Superman sucks, that he was TOO powerful, he was JUST an alien with superpowers, and it was a shame to taint a Batman movie by having Superman in it. Today I got angry that I felt I had to defend one of my favorite superheroes. Today I was asked why I was getting upset about fictional characters. Today I was speechless.
I like superheroes and if you asked me to rank them I could, but generally I think the idea of superheroes is cool. Superman is one of my favorites. I love him, but I still have a lot of problems with his portrayal in movies. I have a hard time with someone inserting their idea of what Superman is over my own. I thought Henry Cavill was a great hero, but I hated that he killed Zod and that his adoptive father came across as almost abusive. I like “Smallville” (the WB’s version of Superman’s origin story starring Tom Welling). In the beginning I loved it for Tom Welling, but later I realized it was because he was like me. He felt alone and weird, but that was what made him amazing. Sometimes I am shocked by how strange my life looks from the outside. Knowing a blind person is kind of like knowing an astronaut. You’ve heard about them before, but meeting one is a special occasion and is kind of cool (at least for people who don’t live with it every day). Superman is often hard to swallow-he’s perfect, invincible, and practically a god, but he is also kind, empathetic, and brave.
Superman is an alien because he was born on a different planet and has a different DNA makeup than humans, but he is very much human. He was raised by human parents with human ideals. He was the standard for the American way and apple pie. First published in 1938, his creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, were influenced heavily by The Great Depression. Superman wasn’t just saving people in car accidents. His first incarnation had him in the role of a social activist, fighting crooked businessmen and politicians, and demolishing run-down tenements. Clark Kent was raised in farm country in the midwest, and he was the basis for all my ideas of what Americans were. I am American, but Superman shaped that standard in so many more ways than my high school government class. Read about a communist Superman and you’ll understand even better. It changes his whole ideology and who he is as a character. He’s no longer America’s savior—he’s not a hero anymore. He is the enforcer of Stalin’s regime.
Superman represented what humans could be, our potential. We could be brave and selfless and powerful and kind. The world didn’t have to push us into the holes and stereotypes society wanted to place us in. You could be a farm boy and the most powerful man in the world. It wasn’t his physical power that made me like his story, it was his struggle. Reconciling the idea of physical power with not doing whatever you wanted.
Batman, for all his cool toys and money, represents all our darkness. These are important aspects of humanity, and we cannot leave them out of the story. Batman doesn’t spend his time railing against his darker feelings; he gives in to them. Consumed in a quest for revenge and a hunger for retribution for the murder of his parents, he decides to fight the “disease” (read crooked cops) in his city. His concern does not generally go beyond the Gotham city limits. And his original incarnation was prone to murder as a way to deal with Gotham’s problems (murdering bad guys, but still murder).
I’ve never put people into “fictional” or “real” categories. It didn’t seem necessary. I don’t hang out with Chris Evans, but I still like him, and if someone says he’s a horrible human being I’d probably argue about it. I’ve spent more time in Superman’s world than I have actually talking to Chris Evans (none), but am I supposed to like Chris more because he’s a “real” person? If Chris Evans said Superman was stupid, I’d probably argue with him too. (I don’t think he would though.) People aren’t worth more because they are “real,” and I can care for fictional people as well as I can for famous people or historical figures.
I could try to explain why I love fictional characters, but I don’t think anyone who doesn’t feel like me will ever understand. I live in Alabama and lead a relatively calm, drama-free life, and stories are exciting, emotional, adventurous, and strange. It’s a way to experience someone else’s life (or another planet’s life) and imagine what it’s like to be them. It’s been proven that readers are more empathetic than non-readers because we are constantly putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Superman represents the moral high ground. Batman represents dark things we like to think we’re above. Superman is an unrealistic goal to have for your life. You aren’t asked to fly or fight aliens, but he, and other characters like him, represent what we can be. Not the heat vision but the heart.
It’s hope. That I can be the hero of my story. That life won’t always be so hard. Sometimes our lives seem insurmountable, then we see characters that are beaten and broken continue on. They don’t always have to be superheroes; we can be inspired by a character who looks or feels like we do. But loving a character that lives in a world I will never touch or see—that is something truly magical. I don’t live in a world with superheroes like Batman or Superman, I’ve never met an alien (that I know of), and the closest I’ve come to wealth is having money left over after paying my student loans. But emotions never change. Superman, for all his alien powers, feels deeply and loves richly. Batman, for all his wealth, struggles with revenge and justice. His mission is dedicated to the love of his parents and his city, but he never seems to find a true love despite his costume.
I don’t want to have this argument again. I don’t want to feel less somehow because I like superheroes or will argue with you about the intentions of fictional people. I love the worlds I live in. I like to visit and experience the mystery, magic, and emotions of fictional characters and I’m not sorry. My life is rich, my mind is sharp, and my imagination is lavish, and that is not just because of reading, but of caring for the fictional stories I pick up. I learned diversity from “Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter;” trees are people too. I learned kindness from “The Chronicles of Narnia.” I found adventure and logic through the stories of Sherlock Holmes. I am not less somehow because I prefer to while away my time and devotion to fictional characters, and neither are you.
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