Sunday, August 24, 2014


There's only one God, ma'am. And I'm pretty sure he doesn't dress like that.
~ Captain America, The Avengers

I’ve always had a faint distrust of superheroes that has gradually increased over the years. In today’s era of increasingly better computer rendering, pretty much nothing is impossible. People fly through the air, buildings blow up, cities are levelled.
Superheroes seem to be in the business of regularly saving the world. Most of them grow up kissed by the gods and discover at some point that they have superhuman qualities; the rest are transformed into superheroes by doctors who dabble in science fiction.
(In case you couldn't guess)
Superheroes are too easy. Cities face destruction as evil villains rise up over cowering and innocent civilians. The superhero arrives just in time to save the world. Every time.
The thing most superhero stories and books overlook is that villains are created by the innocent people. Every arch enemy in history (Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Mau, Napoleon...etc…) would have been powerless without the support of his people. The people created their own destruction. Yes, they were deceived, but they still facilitated it even when all the sign posts pointed to their folly, and afterwards, they wanted the superhero to bail them out with as little inconvenience to them as possible. It’s human nature, after all.
A tiny wayside flower...the Scarlet Pimpernel
Because of this quality of mankind, superheroes go way back. We’re all familiar with the greats like Superman, Batman, Spiderman and the rest, but few know the origin of these super people. One of the first to grace us with his presence was the Scarlet Pimpernel, an English chapo who played dumb in public, but, in his spare time, saved innocents from under the blade of the Guillotine during the French Revolution. Baroness Orczy, his creator, started writing after she thought she could do better than the authors of the dime novels popular in the late 1800s.
My favorite Zorro- Guy Williams
Sir Percy, The Scarlet Pimpernel, touched off a snowball of heroism. Real people, inspired by his fictional heroism, braved death to save lives. Pimpernel Smith was a modern day (as of 1941) adaption of the Scarlet Pimpernel, that inspired Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg, to do some rescuing. He’s credited with saving more than 15,000 Jews. And he wasn’t the only one stimulated by Baroness Orcsy’s superhero.
The Scarlet Pimpernel also inspired another story about a “hero with a secret identity”. Zorro, the fox, was the first Dark Knight. Dressed completely in black and wearing a mask, Don Diego De La Vaga, rode out into the night to save people from the evil Spanish in 19th century California.
Errol Flynn
But we can go back a lot further than The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Curse of Capistrano to find the origin of the superhero. In fact, Achilles, the greatest Greek during the Trojan War, has all the accruements of a modern day superhero. He has superhuman strength, practical immortality, special armour, skills, and a custom made superhero chariot with two super horses. He even has an Achilles’ heel (no pun intended), like many superheroes. The only thing he lacks is the perceived goodness of today’s superheroes.
That’s the thing with superheroes. They aren’t real heroes. Many attempts now-a-days have been made to humanize them, but they all seem to be born with more than their fair share of bravery. They’re a bit like Scotland Yard detectives, Navy Seals and Errol Flynn, all rolled into the same package. Real heroes don’t have superhuman strength, good looks or unusual bravery. They’re people, just like you and me. They weren’t born to be great, they made it there on their own, and if you asked them about it, there’s a good chance they’d say they weren’t anything special.
Cincinnatus reporting for duty
Cincinnatus is a hero Rose and I are particularly fond of. To put it in a nutshell, he was working on his farm one day when an invasion happened. Cincinnatus dropped everything to save Rome, and later agreed to become dictator, but he resigned the office as soon as everything had been ironed out. Duration of his dictatorship? Two weeks.
Cincinnatus cannot be mentioned without a nod to George Washington, the United States’ own personal hero. George was a farmer at heart, but he left Mont Vernon behind to take command of the army. After he trounced the British, he presided over the drafting of the Constitution, then took the reins for two terms as president. This was all fine and dandy, but his true heroism (in my humble opinion) is not what he did, but what he didn’t do. The states eagerly offered to make him King George, but he flatly declined. We came that close to having a dynasty of Washingtons in the White House.

Couldn't tell a lie...but he could chop down the cherry tree
In the end, heroes, real heroes, are often overlooked and forgotten, mostly because they made light of what they did. They rarely are reworded and often aren’t lauded in their lifetimes (and sometimes are forgotten afterwards). They didn’t come with powers any greater than yours or mine…in fact often times the powers they did come with (tempers, strength…) had to be curbed before they could do anything useful.
The truth is, a superhero isn’t going to come sweeping in to fix your bumbled mess for you. Probably if you saw a weirdo wearing red, yellow and blue (with his underwear on the outside), you’d most likely call the police. I know I would.
Superheroes are super, but they ain’t heroes. Heroism is about giving up everything, not gaining powers. Heroism is about humility, not fancy suits. Heroism is about being completely terrified, but doing it anyway. Two thousand years ago, my superhero gave up everything, was whipped, tortured and finally left to die, nailed by his hands and feet to a wooden beam.

I don’t think even Superman could have done that. 


  1. You have summed up very nicely some of my problems with superheroes (I've got to say though, I do love The Scarlet Pimpernel movie with Leslie Howard).
    There's just something very annoying about superheroes, especially the spandex-clad ones. Have you ever watched any of the 1960s Batman TV show? It. Is. Horrible. I can't even talk about it without getting mad, because it's so stupid and annoying, and yet it has way more positive reviews on the internet than negative ones. I don't even know how ANYONE could like it. Aggghh. Anyways. Even the better made, more recent ones, are just a lot of flash and bang with no substance.
    In our church we have a man who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. He is actually a true hero, and he has quite an amazing story. Here's the link to Wiki:
    Looking at him, you'd never guess he was any sort of hero. He's a mild mannered elderly man who will talk to anyone, gives me a hug when he sees me, and attends church regularly. We just call him 'Brother Bob'. To me, it's an honor to know him, and I'd rather shake his hand any day than shake Superman's.

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. :) I have to say, I haven't seen many superhero movies. I've seen a few of the superman cartoons from the 1940's and can laugh at them, but after watching 'The Dark Knight' I began to really wonder what was going on with peoples' brains. Hundreds of people are killed or mutilated during the course of the movie and none of the characters really seem to notice.

    Thanks so much for the link you sent me. That's amazing. It must be surreal to know someone like that. There was a lovely man who was a good friend of my grandfather's who used to come up every year to visit him. We loved talking to him and he used to tell us stories about his time in WWII. It took a long time to worm out of him that he was the captain of his ship in the pacific and later, looking him up, we found out that he was the youngest lieutenant-commander in the United States Navy during WWII. He was 24.

    Those are the real heroes!