Be the hero.
Let superheroes guide you through frightening times.
As so many Americans have taken to the streets to fight for truth and justice, I’ve found myself contemplating superheroes.
Superheroes came into my life, as they did for most of us, when I was young. I was a lonely, bullied child, and they were my friends. They were my friends because they fought for the defenseless. They rescued those who had not yet developed the ability to rescue themselves. And they gave me the idea that somewhere in the world, beings with tremendous and fantastic powers were standing up for what was right.
I didn’t know it at the time, but they, along with so many other genre characters, were also helping to determine my moral compass.
Years before I was born, Superman was teaching children that bigotry, race hatred, and xenophobia weren’t just bad—they were un-American. Check out this 1949 poster:
Superman’s views wouldn’t change over time. Here he is in 2019 smacking around some Klansmen:
In the 1960s, Marvel Comics introduced the X-Men. For decades, Marvel has used its X-Men titles and characters as a not-so-subtle allegory for racism in America. In the comic, mutants are hated and feared simply because of what they are.
Also in the 60s, as the X-Men were fighting supervillains in the comics (and protesters marched for civil rights in the streets of America), Star Trek served up its own commentary on racism (yes, I know, technically not superheroes, but genre characters nonetheless). In this famous clip, thanks in large part to a brilliant performance by Frank Gorshin, racism is revealed to be not only evil, but illogical and borderline preposterous.
Back in the comics, the King of Wakanda made his first appearance in 1966.
Fifty-four years later, Black Panther would get the big-screen treatment that would make him a household name.
If you don’t think T’Challa was having the kind of effect on modern kids that superheroes had on me all those years ago, I refer you to this video of students at the Ron Clark Academy when they found out they would all be treated to a screening of Black Panther.
And kids weren’t the only ones for whom Black Panther had a profound personal effect.
Clearly, superheroes have become mainstream. In a different age, their exploits were the domain of geeks and nerds and bullied kids like me, reading comic books while hidden away in their bedrooms. Back then, however, I was right about one thing: There are beings with tremendous powers fighting for what’s right. Here are some of them:
And here are some more:
And here are even more:
We live in frightening and uncertain times. But if you’re ever unsure about what you can do, what you should do, what you need to do, the answer is clear. It’s been right in front of us for decades. It’s been stamped on the newsprint of comic book pages, beamed through our televisions, and cast on the screens of multiplexes far and wide across the land. The genres and the heroes we love so much point the way towards exactly what we all must do next, and where our country must go. I implore you, in any way you can, to follow their examples. Inspire hope. Defend the oppressed. Fight for what’s right. Battle for truth, justice, and the American way.
Do what you can. Do what you must.
Be the hero.
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Photos and videos are the property of their various copyright holders: Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Viacom, Marvel Studios, NBC Productions, Warner Bros. Studios