Wednesday, November 11, 2020

What is it about superheroes, anyway?

I was talking with some superhero-writer-friends online recently (my colleagues at are the bomb!--you should totally check out their work). 

We were trying to identify the essence of the appeal of superhero stories. Superhero fans can be pretty hardcore--consuming all the superhero stories the world offers gluttonously and still wishing for more. 

So, why is that?

Is it just the wish fulfillment? The wonder of imagining other possibilities for humans beyond what it's actually possible for us to do?

That's certainly part of it, but I don't think that's the heart of it. At least not for me. 

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When I try to find the core of my attraction to superhero stories, I find it wrapped around feeling small and powerless as a child and longing to be able to do something big--something that would really make a difference. 

When I found Peter Parker, I felt like I had found myself. 

Underdogs for the win! 

Like young me, Peter was physically small, smart, kind of shy, and from a family that struggled just at the border of poverty, but loved each other and took a "we're in this together" "can-do" attitude to the lemons life threw them, without becoming completely saccharine. 

He also had a heart to help and an overdeveloped sense of responsibility. He might as well have been raised a Dunaway!

The things that drew me to Spiderman, and, to a lesser degree to other superheroes, are the same parts of myself that drew me to teaching as a career choice, where I have the opportunity for quiet heroics every day, making a difference for hundreds of children. 

As I've gotten older, I've remained interested in and excited by superheroes, though the type of hero that appeals to me has shifted. 

I find I'm drawn to reluctant heroes these days--heroes who say they just want to be left alone, but someone still get pulled into the fray just in time to save the day. This probably shows my own struggles with remaining engaged and hopeful in a world that gives me a lot of reasons to become cynical and disengaged. 

Fighting burnout is half the struggle of this stage of adulthood for me--keeping going even when I can't see the difference my actions make. 

Maybe that's why Patricia took the driver's seat in the latest Menopausal Superhero novel. 

I just finished a draft of Be the Change, which will become the fourth novel in the series, coming out in 2021. 

Right now, it's with my critique partners. 

The part of me that comes out in Patricia is the part that fights off burnout by staying connected with young people, being inspired by them (and sometimes being grumpy about that). 

Check out this excerpt: 
"Suzie made her want to be a better woman, to find her inner hero and do the right thing, even when it hurt. Suzie had been the impetus for her first foray into heroic action, pushing her to save the beauty queen at the mall. She’d also been a large part of the reason Patricia had agreed to sign on with the Department and work with the UCU.

Even coming to Indiana had been as much to please Suzie as out of worry for her missing mother. Would she even be here right now if not for her? Maybe not. That was the awful thing about young people—they cared. And they thought you should care, too. Exhausting."

Maybe that's the heart of superhero for me: they are characters that keep going, even when the going gets tough, the pay is bad, and the results might be unpopular. They fight for right, and I'm always up stories about that kind of heroism. 

How about you? What kinds of superheroes speak to you? Is there a type of story or character that you're always up for? 

1 comment:

  1. Superheroes are awesome! I grew up reading superhero comics. Many of them are considered as underdogs or not part of the popular group. They tend to be the outsiders, the loners, who chose to use their abilities to help others even if they haven't been very nice to them personally. Great post!