Holding out for a Hero

“I love Spider Man!” But wait, which Spider Man are you talking about? Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield or Tom Holland? Or are you talking about the ever-changing cartoon version? Maybe the original Marvel comic?

People run into this dilemma all the time when dealing with superheroes in the arts. Besides Spider Man there is Superman (Christoper Reeves, Henry Cavill, Tom Welling, or Brandon Routh), Batman (Christian Bale, Ben Affleck, or Michael Keaton), The Hulk (Eric Bana, Edward Norton, or Mark Ruffalo), and countless others.

And yet for all these different iterations of beloved characters, each new version sticks to a set of criteria – male, white, handsome, muscular, heterosexual and cis. So, Marvel, DC, Hollywood, other comics and comic artists, what’s going on?

Where’s all our gay, transgender, Black, Muslim, elderly, scrawny and recovering addict superheroes? Where’s the superhero that the people who aren’t white, buff, cis males can relate to? Where is our second wave of superheroes?

Abrie Richison, sophomore at the College, said, “It’s sad that superheroes already have this stigma. It’s just this group of badass guys. That’s ‘our superheroes’ and it’s really hard to break through a barrier that people are so obsessed with.” She’s not wrong. It is hard to break through this barrier, but not impossible. It takes just one to start the movement, and maybe the new Wonder Woman movie was the one.

There is no denying that the new Wonder Woman movie, released June 2, has already impacted young people and the world as a whole. The film empowered females of all ages and opened boys’ minds to the idea that females can be heroes too. The depiction of a muscular, bold female hero broke gender norms to which society has become accustomed. Despite all these progressions, there is still more to do in order to change the superhero world for the better.

Just as male superheroes fit into a certain prototype, the few female superheroes we have seen do too. They are all made to be conventionally beautiful, seductive and wear tight, revealing clothing that advertises their bodies. The bodies of female superheros are objectified on the screen just as their female audience is on the streets.

Who wants to fight in a dress that barely covers their backside and gifts the enemy a marvelous view every time you send a death kick their way? Wouldn’t yoga pants be more logical? Or even gi pants (the pants martial artists wear)? Why aren’t we at least giving these women who are fighting to save the world a hair band to keep their hair out of the way? Unless they have perfect-in-place hair that doesn’t stick to the back of their neck from sweat, which is a superpower in itself.

This goes for the male superheroes too. As Percy Haas, senior at the College pointed out, they are all just “a bunch of white guys in tights.” Most of these men are constrained to shirts and pants that mold perfectly to their bodies. This would be fine if they were of all different body types. Instead, Hollywood and comics formed them into flawless, robust sculptures. They are one monolithic image of what a hero should look like. They have taken something natural and varied, like body type, and assigned a moral value to it. But look around, that isn’t realistic and that’s not the only body type worthy of admiration.

Design by McKayla Conahan.

When three students were asked to describe a new superhero they would like to see or create, the answers varied, but none described superheroes that are in the movies today.

Richison proposed “a woman superhero that goes above and beyond just fighting crime… [she would] not do what the supermen are doing, but do something better.”

On the other hand, Haas expressed enthusiastically his desire to see a nerdy professor turned superhero. “I just want to see the nerdiest professor ever – like a computer science professor – become a superhero…But I want it to be this endearing, clumsy, nerdy guy…. Like he’s nerded his way to superhero-dom. He wants to be a superhero so bad that he’s programmed his own app or something and modified his DNA. I just want to believe in a really dorky, very nerdy professor-superhero.”

Nick Rowley, senior at the College, was adamant and specific about his ideal superhero. He wants to see “an old man who uses a shotgun and samurai sword to deal out justice, but he mostly uses his mind to defeat his enemies, like poking holes in their ideologies and shit. He’s the paragon of virtue and enlightenment.” The real kicker? “He’s blind.”

This begs the question, if everyone is unique and individual, why are our superheroes all the same?

It is easy to associate these superheroes with body image issues, gender inequality and many other problems that invade our society. We could just as easily blame ourselves for allowing unrealistic, perfect beings to become our superheroes instead of reinventing them to align more with our values and ideas.

We all have creative minds. We can all, on some level, envision new superheroes. We can construct superheroes that will be role models to the next generation and finally look up to and be proud of, not superheros that magnify our own insecurities. We have the power to create heroes in the image of our greatest strengths rather than society’s standards.

So, superbeings of the world, grab your capes, shields and creative minds because we have a mission to accomplish. It’s up to us to save our planet and society for the future generations to come. Humankind assemble!


*This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of The Yard.

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