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Reply To: The Hero of Yesterday Becomes the Tyrant of Tomorrow””


The popular heroes of my childhood, the very ones described by Brad in his reflection, were analytic blanks, devoid of the shadow elements we have come to expect in the modern anti-hero iterations. I think back to the fifties and sixties and wonder at my champions’ lack of psychological complexity. Mostly male, they seem to have no emotional pulse. They could lift entire planets but found it impossible to sit still and reflect. They could subdue evil but remained incapable of introspection. I cannot imagine the Lone Ranger sitting by the camp fire, and asking, “What’s it all about, Tonto?” Or Tonto musing, “In a way, Kemosabe, aren’t we all wearing masks?”

Superman, at least, was possessed of a longing for his lost Krypton, as, it is said, we are all longing for our lost village. My own sense of displacement as a recent migrant to California at age 11 made it easy to identify with the Man of Steel. I identified with his isolation. But DC comics also gave us the antidote to the lonely protagonist: in the Justice League of America, individuals came together as a team as opposed to the solitary I-Alone-Can-Fix-It sort of demigod. They gathered to promote the good as they understood the good. A noble concept.

I do not pretend to be an expert on the illustrated fiction of that era but thanks to DC the idea of a woman superhero was not beyond imagining–not just Wonder Woman, either. Supergirl was very important to many young readers. And Marvel’s response to DC’s Justice League brought us the invisible woman. (I know Stan Lee is sacrosanct these days but did he really have to make his single female paladin invisible. American society of the fifties had enough invisible women already.)

Importantly, the Fantastic Four also brought us the wounded healer archetype, each of its Fantastic Four members dealing with what amounts to a kind of super-disability. The Thing, especially, has the fate of Hephaestus, the hobbled god, imposed upon him and only through overcoming his resentment, does the former “Ben Grimm” ascend in Campbellian style to acceptance of the call. Like Achilles he sulks. He must be lured out of his tent.

The hero archetype is alive and evolving in the Marvel Universe. Can’t wait, as the teaser on the comic book’s back page used to say, “for our next exciting issue!”