Part of growing up is realizing the world around you isn’t as beautiful as you were once told it was. It’s full of ugliness and ugly people who will take all they can from you. There is beauty to be found, but it is not everywhere you look.
Many people turn towards the world of comics to satisfy their need for beauty. Larger than life heroes possess larger than life attributes, character traits that cannot exist in the real world.
These attributes are both physical and spiritual. It is not enough to talk the talk, these heroes also walk the walk. And when they falter, they fall, and when they fall, no one is safe.
In the past few years, a comic called Injustice: Gods Among Us was released in a five year installment.
The series starts with Superman committing the one atrocity he must not lower himself to, he kills a man in cold blood. By many people’s standards the man deserved the death he got, but it proves merely the catalyst for Superman’s greatest downward spiral as the world becomes governed by his version of martial law.
Superman must not kill. Superman must not flirt with any woman other than Ms. Lois Lang. Superman must not be rude. Superman must not do so many things, and he does not do them. He adheres to his strictest sense of morality at all times, until he doesn’t. And when he doesn’t, God help the humans.
This Kryptonian male is a god, though, in nearly every sense of the word. He is worshiped by many for his deeds in the comics themselves, and the readers worship him as well.
To read Superman is to read of the impossible becoming possible. It’s not possible though. It’s not possible to be him. It’s not possible to possess his morality.
Superman does not discriminate. He does not see race or economic background or gender or sexuality. He just sees people who need his help, and he helps. Even in his darkest hours, he is still motivated by his need to help others, though the path he takes may be wretched and misguided.
It is his motivation that humans may possess. Humans may follow through with their need to help people, though, like Superman, their intentions may be lost along the way.
A character more flawed, and more unattainable even, is Batman. He’s rich. He’s beyond fit. He’s forever human. Spider Man, Wolverine, Green Lantern, Flash, all of these have their special powers just like Superman. Batman does not, and yet in many ways he’s so much harder to be.
When a reader opens a comic, they open themselves up to this world. Like any form of media, a comic can influence a person way beyond what they consciously realize. Batman is human, but he has everything society today says a man should have. Women at his disposal, money, muscles, a jawline to die for, business sense.
He even has a butler.
He’s not an outlier in this world of comics, either. While many superheroes start out scrawny or conventionally unattractive as society would say, in the end, when they achieve that hero status, they all appear to be cut from the same cloth.
That cloth is white. That cloth is chiseled. That cloth is tall, dark, handsome and somehow not arrogant. It is what every man wants to be, and what none are. It is impossible. Beyond their looks is a personality that shines like the sun. Nothing gets them down beyond repair. Even the lowest of lows can be gotten through in record time. Girls in refrigerators are just a way to advance the story line that is their fictional life that much quicker.
The Bottom Line
It’s unfortunate that all the men mentioned in this article are predominantly white. It’s disappointing that they’re all cis-gender straight men and that you’re having trouble thinking of other superheroes from your childhood who didn’t also match that description. What’s worse than any of this is the way they make young men and boys feel.
Beyond teaching young boys that the only thing to be is white, cis and straight, these larger than life men teach young boys that they can find their worth only in achieving the impossible. In the end they’ll all come up short, and they’ll always feel as if their life is missing that key part.
Amanda Cranston is a KCPR staff member and Cal Poly journalism senior. She wrote the words. Ella Worley, a KCPR DJ and Cal Poly wine & viticulture sophomore, created the art. She runs the airwaves of KCPR San Luis Obispo 91.3 FM and KCPR.org on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.