Era of Heroes
A slew of superheroes and villains continue to carve their way through cinema and television.
In this time of exciting banter and caped crusaders, it’s easy to write these films off as childish or derivative, but this may actually be the healthiest response to our current environment. Right now, we need some heroes. We need them as a parable of struggle, morality and courage. We need heroes to remind us of the epic struggles, the lack of simplicity between good and bad or right and wrong. They serve a unique purpose in the day and age—they reflect something greater than themselves. It’s through these stories that we can reconnect with the bigger picture.
We are not talking about the newest scandal, tweet, or mudslinging, but a larger scale idea that there are true atrocities in the world and that they need to be addressed. The accessibility of the character may dilute some of the depth, but they do relate to something bigger nonetheless. With that depth and the suspension of reality, we are given the freedom to explore the bigger questions safely.
"Right now, we need some heroes. We need them as a parable of struggle, morality and courage."
These questions vary and can span anything from government to equality and discrimination. Fundamental ideologies like the Avengers found in Civil War, the conception of government vs independent organization is a huge question that separates an entire bipartisan government. In addition, it allows viewers to question concepts of terrorism (Superman v Batman or Ironman 3) in a way that separates preconceived notions of race, ethnicity or religious bias. The struggles and realities of terror on refugees and the resulting blame and guilt (Avengers 2 and Civil War).
So many of our real world heroes have been tarnished. Soldiers are diminished as war criminals due to politics. Athletes have addictions of all sorts and scandals. Musicians, actors and the like continue to disappoint. Police officers are vilified (sometimes accurately and other times not). We can do the same safely to these characters without the same ramifications and open a conversation on how to improve our current climate.
With this new space created to explore acts of heroics, the question is: how do we transition from the safety of fantasy and sci-fi to being more representative of our daily struggle?
Marvel has had the entire Avengers and subsequent movie franchises, moving on to TV—Agents of Shield, Agent Carter and Inhumans. But also Netflix with the Defenders. DC has depicted the growth of the world's greatest detective in Gotham, the darker version of Robin Hood in Arrow and the various triumphs of The Flash. The next question is, are these OUR heroes?
Netflix has created the plot lines and assembled the Defenders. Which, whether you like it or not, is on a path to creating greater diversity. Jessica Jones a powerful female antihero, Daredevil a highly conflicted and Catholic vigilante, Luke Cage an unassuming role model and one of the first black superheroes, and the Iron Fist yet another riches to rags to riches story. With the exception of Iron Fist, these continue to challenge what a hero looks like or their origins. They are something to connect to as we can not always identify with an Asgardian, or Millionaire Playboy or Kryptonian. These characters give us hope from within and come from a darker place (reality).
Comics have been displaying a variety of ethnicities, genders and even sexuality for years. Why are television and film so far behind when comic books have been depicting a greater ethnically diverse pallet? Storm, Luke Cage, Bishop, Cyborg, are all black characters. The switch from older white guy to an irreverent and controlling Samuel L. Jackson for Nick Fury was a stroke of genius. The character does not NEED to be white. It has no bearing, so do not make it one (in truth, I will be more ecstatic when Idris Elba is James Bond). While we are at it, why stop there? There has already been a gay wedding on the cover of a comic book (Astonishing X-Men 2012) and a young Kamal Khan (Ms. Marvel) challenges the stereotypical garb of a Heroine while covered modestly befitting a teenage Muslim woman.
We need heroes to explore our biases and preconceived notions. They are born out of strife but then again so are most of us. Let’s catch up to the comic book counter parts and be representative of the community. We need a “good guy,” and we need them to win, but we need them to be more representative of us, too.