Why We Love Superheroes

On Sunday I finally saw the Incredibles 2 (and I just noticed that that’s the official title of the movie. Not The Incredibles 2 but Incredibles 2 which is really weird to me) with a group of friends. There were nine of us in total, we nearly had an entire row to ourselves in the theatre, and of course it was amazing. The Incredibles has been one of my top favourite Disney-Pixar movies since it came out, I loved the storyline, I loved the characters (especially Violet and Elastigirl!…Okay and Jack-Jack too!) and how each of the family members were shown as a team who worked and fought together, no one in the family outshone anyone else.

I’ve always loved superheroes or anything relating to them. I’ve mentioned this briefly in a past post before, where I ended up enjoying witches, witchcraft, and magical powers over superheroes due to the lack of female superheroes I could relate to. Yes, there was Wonder Woman and Batgirl, Starfire and Raven, all of whom I liked (especially the latter two) but they were rarely the stars of their own stories. The one superheroine I absolutely loved who did have her own show was Cybersix, and she’s a pretty different superhero.

To give a brief backstory, Cybersix was an Argentinian comic book series from the 1990s that followed a young woman who had been genetically engineered into a cyborg with superhuman abilities by a mad Nazi scientist in a concentration. She goes to Argentina to hunt down her creator and the other monsters he’s created, fighting as the superheroine Cybersix by night and disguising herself as a male high school English teacher during the day. It later became a Canadian cartoon miniseries in the late 90s. (Wikipedia)

My sister and I adored Cybersix because it was a completely different superhero show that was unlike anything we’d ever seen. Cybersix showed a female superhero as the lead and showed her fighting like a male superhero would unlike my sister and I’s other favourite female superheroine show at the time the Powerpuff Girls which features very girly superheroes. This isn’t a bad thing of course, I loved Powerpuff Girls too and watched it just as religiously as Cybersix, but it was nice to see Cybersix represented and treated like the other superheroes around her instead of hyper-feminized as many superheroines are*.

Watching the Incredibles 2 brought back all that old superhero nostalgia and it was kind of timely that I watched it now because I also just finished reading a book about superheroes. Because of that I’ve been thinking about them a lot, how we view them, and why we enjoy superhero stories so much.

Very simply, people like superhero stories because we like to imagine we can change the world. We watch the fictional superheroes punching bad guys, fighting crime and corruption and we like to believe that we can do those things. We may not ever get superpowers (no matter how badly we may want them) but that doesn’t mean we can’t become aware of the injustice going on around us, fight for what’s right, become our own heroes. It’s inspiring, it’s a nice message, and it’s definitely a good motivator, but like every good superhero story, being a hero is much more difficult than it appears and always comes with a price.

Which brings me to the book I read, Vicious by V.E. Schwab (you can read my review of Vicious here!). Vicious is about two young, intelligent, and dark university students who work on a thesis project to prove their theory that if a person has a near-death experience with high adrenaline levels, they can become an ExtraOrdinary (a person with superpowers). The two men put their theory to the test with disastrous results for their and whole pile of other people’s lives.

Without giving any spoilers (except that V.E. Schwab is amazing and you should read ALL OF HER BOOKS!) Vicious was a fantastic and brilliant book that is both a tribute to and critique of the superhero genre. As well as featuring the familiar origin stories of our hero and villain, it also puts them into question with the idea of privilege and power and who decides what label we fit into.

I’ve been told X-Men does a similar thing with its metaphor of power and privilege and prejudice, but having not read/seen X-Men (I know, I need to) all I can do is comment on Vicious and how it challenges those views. And with superhero movies on the rise (maybe forever? Will Marvel ever stop?) and the world not really getting any better, one could argue that we need heroes or to become heroes more than ever.

But what kind of hero, because again it’s complicated. It’s not just about fighting the bad guy and winning the battle, it’s about seeing how we fight and how that can affect other people, not just ourselves. It’s about being aware of our position in life and looking at how our actions, about how we speak, and who we support helps or hurts others. It’s about knowing which battles to fight, when to be the hero and when to be the sidekick and let someone else with the proper abilities do the fighting.

It’s complicated, and it’s hard, but that doesn’t make it impossible, it just makes it worth fighting for. But before we put on our capes (or just the mask and suit since Edna Mode would say otherwise), we need to be aware of all these things. Because it isn’t just about ourselves or our power or our privilege, it’s about how what we do affects everyone else. And you can’t be a hero without that.

*Kind of weird how superhero is recognized as a word but superheroine** isn’t. DAMN YOU PATRIARCHY!

**Correction: Microsoft Word recognizes supeheroine as a word and WordPress doesn’t. COME ON WORDPRESS!

(The Incredibles 2 image found here.)

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