On Friday, I saw my third superhero movie this summer (Transformers: Dark of the Moon doesn’t count). Captain America: The First Avenger follows Thor and Green Lantern. To be very candid, none of these is a groundbreaking film like Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, or the first Iron Man. If you peel away all the CGI and explosions, there does seems to be a common factor. Each title hero is dealing with a character issue. Thor, an alien (or, if you wish, a small “g” god) has problems with humility. He is irresponsible, self-centered, and overly ambitious. Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) is trying to face his fears. His test pilot father died in a plane explosion, and he wonders if he will go the same way. And Captain America (Steve Rogers) is basically a good man who receives his powers primarily because he is a nice guy, an idealistic man in the body of a 98 pound weakling. Once he has power, how will he use it?
I think it was the creators of Marvel Comics who decided several decades ago that we did not want our superheroes to be perfect. Certainly, the superheroes they created possessed abilities “far beyond those of mortal men” and women, but we could relate to them more if they had to deal with certain shortcomings. Other comic creators picked up on this as well. In fact, we have come to the point that many superheroes are almost anti heroes. For example, think about the alcoholic, womanizing Tony Stark (Iron Man) and the obsessed Bruce Wayne (Batman). In these recent movies, we come away wondering whether we really should trust them or not.
Evidently, we don’t want our heroes to be perfect. We want them to struggle with issues. Does this mean that we can’t accept anyone being perfect? Because of our own flaws, can we relate better to a mythical figure with feet of clay? This may be, but I think there is another consideration as well.
For me the struggles of Thor, Hal Jordan, and Steve Rogers remind me that with great power comes great responsibility. One of the challenges that humanity began to face in the 20th century was the great power that we had unleashed with the weaponization of atomic energy. The ability to create and destroy has grown exponentially since that discovery. As individuals and as nations we often find ourselves with more power than we know how to control and in exercising that power, we often unleash unexpected consequences. We are victims of our own achievements.
As we consider our superheroes and antiheroes, we may discover a great deal about ourselves.