Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Heroes return to form

I was reading comic books almost before I was in school.  In kindergarten I remember following the adventures of Spider man, Iron Fist, and Doctor Strange.  It was one of the things that helped turn me into the reader and writer I am today.  Anyone who's read my books should be able to recognize the influence the comics had on me.

In their earliest incarnations, comic books were as much propaganda as entertainment.  Very pro-American, racist, and militaristic.  It was a different time, a different set of principles at work.

But by the time I came into it the whole atmosphere had changed.  The art form had developed into a social commentary ranging from the hidden mystique of the martial arts to the dangers of drugs.  Most folks were able to draw the connection between the mutants of the X-Men and the civil rights movement.  Society needed to come to terms with those who were "different," much in the way it does today.

Comics have gotten a bad rap here and there throughout their history, but the fact is that a lot of the movers and shakers today were brought up on them.  The idea of super-powered individuals standing up for what's right is something that seems uniquely American for the most part.  We want to believe in heroes.  Maybe because we have so few real ones to look up to.

The thing about fictional heroes is that they can be trusted to remain who they are.  Even if a new writer signs up to the franchise and takes it different directions, the fan can keep his or her own image of his or her hero in mind.  The hero doesn't change, just peoples' different interpretations of him, her, or it.

So anyone who's paid any attention to Marvel's comic books in the past several years knows that they took a turn into serious dark and gritty territory--tackling the whole idea of superhero registration and how this might affect our concepts of liberty and freedom.  But now apparently they want to return more to the old days, the days when the heroes stood for goodness and justice above all.

People are worried that Disney's purchase of Marvel will turn them all into a bunch of family-friendly softies... I think they're evolving, like everything else evolves.  But the core of what makes them what they are, and the reason we love them, will remain the same.

We need heroes.  Comics are our modern mythology.  And we all know what mythology does for us.  Or, if we don't, we should take the time to find out.  It makes us strive to be better than we are, to stand for something besides just ourselves.  And if people like Spidey, Captain America, and Iron Man don't do that for us, who will?

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