Everybody needs a hero. When I was a small boy, Superman was mine. I dashed around the house with a towel tied around my neck and my arms stretched out in a vain attempt to fly. When I realized that I couldn’t leave the ground, I asked my dad to teach me how. He told me that he didn’t know either but I refused to believe him. Although I had never actually seen him “slip the surly bonds of earth” on his own power, I was certain that he could. I was convinced that it was a secret he was keeping for himself.
When I got older, I abandoned Superman for heroes who were more flawed. By that, I mean that I stopped reading DC Comics and started reading Marvel. I admired the way they combined angst-ridden insecurity with wisecracking bravado. It appealed to me, perhaps because this was the way I wanted to see myself. I felt like I lived most of my life hidden behind a secret identity. Underneath my ordinary exterior, I was sure there was some kind of greatness just waiting to burst forth. Someday everybody would be surprised.
These days there doesn’t seem to be any real difference between DC and Marvel. All our comic book heroes are flawed (with the possible exception of Wonder Woman). Meanwhile, although our flesh and blood leaders have the patter down, they lack the necessary skills. The bravado is there but without the superpowers and corresponding humility that is required to wield them safely.
Now that I am old, I see myself in them too and find the identification less than alluring. My secret identity is a secret no longer. It seems that myopic vision, insecurity, and a mild-mannered demeanor were my true nature all along. There is no inner superhero waiting to burst forth. I’d say something clever and dismissive about being in such a predicament if only I could think what it might be.
In Amazing Fantasy #15 the Spiderman origin story ends with the narrator’s observation that, in this world, great power brings with it great responsibility. But I think the narrator is wrong. That is how things are in the world of fantasy. In this world, great responsibility is usually shouldered by those who are ordinary…or even less. We are all anti-heroes now.