It’s times like these that make me feel the most hopeless.
I haven’t always been good at dealing with feelings like this. But when the future looks bleak, I always turn to stories about heroes.
Super heroes have been with me my whole life. I remember going to school with a Batman figure in my pocket as a child, then running around the playground imagining I was a hero myself. Feeling different and having a secret let me feel like maybe this secret identity came from strength, not weakness.
When I was a teenager I escaped to a world of super heroes every week, reading every comic I could get my hands on. They were my friends at a time when I had none. Their world was a colourful escape from a life I’d become numb to. I didn’t have anyone to talk to about my anxieties and problems, but these heroes were there every week, making me feel a little less alone.
As an adult I even studied super heroes academically. I wrote my Masters dissertation about comic books, trying to disregard my love for them and look at their appeal with an objective eye. Understanding them on that level, diving into their history, analysing their allure, it really opened my eyes to the reason I’ve appreciated them so much for practically my entire life: they’re modern fables, 20th Century myths. They’re icons.
There’s no ambiguity to Superman or Captain America. In the end they always do the right thing. They might evolve and take on quirks or complexities as times change, but the core story remains the same: good vs. evil. The hero vs. insurmountable odds.
It’s a tired trope in super hero comics that no hero stays dead. It’s seen as criticism and something to mock. The hero always wins, they always come back, they never fail for good. But I think that’s also the strength of the genre. Super heroes are indestructible. They’re symbols that cannot be defeated. They stand for hope, for protection, for helping those who need them. Right now a lot of us feel like we could do with some help. Thinking about what the next few years will bring is enough to crush the spirit of anyone with a shred of empathy, anyone who knows they’re in for a nigh-impossible fight.
So I’ve been returning to stories about heroes. To feel hope, to feel that there’s someone larger than life to look up to and to try emulate. Something utterly incorruptibly good.
But of course, there’s no Superman in real life. He’s not going to swoop down and catch my falling friends or push back the threat looming over us all. Real heroes fight, fail and die. We don’t live in a world where everything always turns out okay.
Yet I still find a quiet inspiration in super heroes. In the fact that these immortal icons, famous bastions of moral fortitude, stand for ideals that we strive for. That they would be rooting for us if they could, the vulnerable of us who need help, it means a little something to me. It helps remind me to keep going.
Superman doesn’t give up when people are depending on him, when things look most hopeless. I may fail or falter, but I’ll do my best to emulate that indomitable spirit and determination. I won’t give up either.
In their absence we must strive to be each other’s heroes.
“You may not be here in body, but I know you are in spirit… The colors will fly.” – Superman #1 (2016)