Friday, June 17, 2011

Who Is the Greatest Hero?

Editor's Note: Today I have a guest post by contributor Paul Entrekin which I think you will find appropriate in light of a certain movie that is opening today. ;)

Thousands of years ago there were heroes. Indeed, there were Superheroes. From Agamemnon to Hercules and Thor, beings with powers far beyond the norm took bold, drastic action on behalf of mere humans to stop evil, right wrongs or just eliminate some menace to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Some seventy years ago, due to a desire to keep idle printing presses running and make a bit of additional income, superheroes were once again re-envisioned, and tread across the pages of illustrated text we have come to know as Comic Books.
Like many who stumble on this media at an early age, whether by chance or choice, I first came to be infatuated with the first and “greatest” hero, Superman. It wasn’t that the stories were that good, in fact, they seemed ridiculous even to my ten year old mind. No, it was the myth. Who he was and how he came to be was just so tragic and cool! Then the reasons why he did the things he did, the way he did them, were just so noble and yet so necessary from a human point of view. He performed good deeds because it was the right thing to do, he passed on actual punishment to the legal system so that people would not fear him, mistrust him, or resent his vast superiority.

The concept of a part time secret identity seemed necessary for peace of mind and sheer sanity. I think even then there was some appreciation of the extreme empowerment of the individual in a world where it seemed that the power of the individual was greatly diminished by governments and large corporations.

At some point I became more interested in Batman, probably because he was at least remotely possible from the standpoint of reality. His non-super vulnerability made him more attractive. I could possibly actually become Batman. (Of course, I wasn’t rich and probably not willing to devote so much energy into the necessary training)

Then I stumbled upon MARVEL comics, and finally, the stories were much, much better. The heroes were more complex and human. They had doubts, could get freaked out, and could just as easily make a mistake as pull off a winning move. This was some good reading!

After years, decades of considering myself to be firmly in the Marvel camp, I came to realize that one character had become more appealing to me than any other, and surprise, it was a DC character! Green Lantern. Even considering the dopey, obvious ploy to weaken a character who wields limitless power, namely a weakness to the color yellow and the ridiculous lantern concept itself, he was still the most incredibly great concept to come down the chute.

The new 60’s version was based on incredibly ancient science. The ring was a computer so sophisticated and compact, that it could literally create anything one could imagine! It could create any form of matter or energy, answer any question that could possibly be known through its billion year old and millions of cultures database (including every source of data on Earth!) His was not just a powerful weapon, but a device that could provide knowledge and create any needed material instantly on a galactic scale. Man become God!

Too bad DC felt they had to “dumb down” most of their ultra-powerful heroes. They seem to feel that no one should be shown to have that much power, or that they can’t build a story with any challenge to it for such heroes. I say that there is always a way to make an interesting tale, you just have to find the right angle. Sometimes just finding the “villan” or cause of an event can be challenging. Perhaps figuring out what to do is not so obvious. Indeed, it seems the stories I have enjoyed most are the ones where the hero figures out some ingenious way to beat the bad guy. Then there are the internal struggles. Hal Jordan had to constantly remember that he is just a mere man after all, and that even though he could have anything he desired instantly, he understood the fundamentally most important thing, that absolute power does not bring happiness.

All he really wanted was to have friends, love, and a place to come home to. Denny O’Neil got close to this mainly missed truth about the character, and created some of the most memorable stories ever to take comic form. If only DC had understood this, we would have had some of the greatest stories ever, constantly.

But for me, to answer the original question, I stick with Green Lantern. The ability to create as well as destroy makes him far more interesting to me. Perhaps one day DC will realize just how great that fact is and use it instead of ignoring it completely, or injecting ridiculous ideas like having it cause him pain to use the ring. There is a much greater story here. If only it were told.

Hope you enjoy the movie!

- Paul


MattComix said...

For me, I think many of the superheroes are cool in different ways but if you put a gun to my head to pick, it will always be Superman. Hes the grand-daddy of them all, I think his look and his powers are cool and he is the embodiment of the superhero idea.

It would very easy for him to be selfish with his powers but he chooses not to be. He chooses to think beyond himself to be a friend and protector of life not even due to having pain or guilt as a motivator, but rather that due to his origins and the compassion of the Kents he realizes what his powers mean.

..and you know, he's just fun dammit. He doesn't have to be an angst ridden, blood thirsty claw bearing so-called "badass" to impress me as one of the coolest characters in comics or any media ever devised by human kind.

He's got it all. Action, drama, heroics, romance, comedy, hope, and yes I dare say he's even relatable.

Because like Clark there's the side of ourselves that is who we are everyday but how cool would it be if like Clark we could peel that a way with a single shirt-rip and unleash all our power and potential for greatness, defying all perceived limits, even those of gravity?

There's a very basic human dream Superman appeals to which is why i utterly balk at the notion he's unrelatable. That is just a sad, sorry, and cynical gospel that has been carved into the comics community by men with no imagination and no heart.

nude0007 said...

I have to agree with you about Superman, his concept and myth are compelling. I think it was Jeoff Johns who did the re-conception of Superman and he actually got a point I never was able to pin down too well. Superman has to be good, or humans would fear him. He also has to have a secret id, to be himself as much as possible and to have real interaction with his fellow beings on this planet. The reason I didn't pick him as the greatest hero is because in reality , all his powers probably wouldn't accomplish much. The comics stretch reality to make his powers seem very much more adaptable and useful than I think they would be. It would still be great to be Superman, but I think his effectiveness as a force for good is vastly overrated, like most superpowered individuals.


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