When people learn of my adoration of comic books, they almost always ask one of two questions:
1 – Are you one of those people who dress up at conventions?
2 – Who’s your favorite character?
The short answer to the first question is no (although I personally find nothing about dressing up as one’s favorite superhero stranger than most of the things people do to worship the deity of their religion). But as odd as people’s captivation over whether or not one participates in cosplay, it’s the second question that always leaves me aghast. While it may seem like an overstatement to compare the question of one’s favorite superhero to asking a parent who their favorite child is, it’s honestly a legitimate analogy (albeit I don’t have any children at the time of this writing so that is subject – although unlikely – to change).
Regardless of your age group, if you’ve ever been a fan of comic books, we’ve most likely grown up with the same characters to some extent. Whether you experienced the naïve Green Lantern written by Denny O’Neil in the 70s or the more recent Green Lantern scribed by Geoff Johns, you still witnessed the adventures of a character whose world expanded with each and every mission. And it doesn’t matter if your Superman was portrayed by George Reeves or Christopher Reeve; you still witnessed the story of a fish-out-of-water superhero who believed that despite his alien origins, found the people of Earth worthy of his protection. It’s no wonder why we gain such affection for these characters, and why the commonalities and differences in their presentation to us leads us to gravitate towards different superheroes at different points in our lives. For example, one may not have been able to relate to the Peter Parker married to supermodel Mary Jane, but could identify with the awkward teenager reintroduced by Brian Michael Bendis in the pages of Ultimate Spider-Man. It’s therefore ludicrous to expect one – particularly one who has loved the medium for so long – to pick just one of hundreds of potential candidates.
As a teenager in the 90s still looking for that elusive first kiss (and witnessing that kiss being bestowed upon more and more of his friends once high school began) it was the X-Men heroine Rogue to whom I felt such a strong bond. Rogue’s uncontrollable ability to absorb the powers and psyches of others with just a touch forced her into an involuntary isolation with which I could empathize. Spider-Man meanwhile was everything a young nerd pursuing a career in journalism could aspire to be. Not only was the former high school outcast married to a stunning supermodel, but always remained calm, cool, and collected in the face of adversity. When encountering situations in which most of us would cower, Spider-Man instead managed to deliver witty one-liners. Knowing that he too was once so similar to myself, it encouraged me to know that I was just one radioactive spider bite away from the most amazing life I could possibly comprehend.
Of course, that radioactive bite never came. But before you offer me a shoulder to cry on, you should know that the revelation that I was never going to be bit by such a creature was one of the greatest things I could ever hope for. Because while the chances of undergoing the same transformation as Peter Parker via radioactive spider bite were slim, that did not mean I couldn’t undergo the same a somewhat similar transformation nonetheless. Maybe with some confidence, I too could remain calm, cool, and collected in the face of adversity. And while I might not be able to make a difference in the lives of others courtesy of my web-shooters, that didn’t mean I couldn’t still make a positive impact on others by different means. I was finally beginning to understand that the comic books that I grew up loving were not necessarily beloved because they entertained me, but also because they were grandiose illustrations of how I myself could achieve similar objectives if I followed the right path.
Twenty years later, Rogue and Spider-Man remain AMONG my many favorites. But equally as important is the fact that the years have also introduced many new favorites as well. Batman, who I enjoyed as a teenager but nowhere near to the extent I do now, has become much more relatable since perceiving his story as a boy who turned tragedy into triumph rather than the story of a man with some really expensive toys. Meanwhile, in a post-Wall-Street-crash world where the wealthy appear to have greater rights than the rest of society, Green Arrow has become something of a people’s champion to me in his crusade to protect the streets of Star City. Similarly, Captain America, a superhero who always came across as a one-dimensional boy scout when I was growing up, became a fully-fledged bad ass after receiving a bit of a makeover during Marvel’s Civil War storyline. After Iron Man sided with the government on the debate of whether or not superheroes should be forced to register if they wish to become costumed crusaders, Captain America surprisingly went rogue in the belief that the government should not have the power to declare who one’s enemies are. With this story taking place just a handful of years following 9/11 – more specifically a time in which the people of the United States were far enough removed from the attacks to collect their thoughts and start asking questions – Captain America quickly transformed from a “Yes Man” of Uncle Sam to one willing to fight for what he believed versus what he was told to believe.
Comic book fans have not only watched characters “grow up” before their eyes, but have also been provided with a sense of security from them. Rogue was not going to save me from a heat-seeking missile, but if she could overcome her disconnect from other humans, then maybe I could too. And if Captain America could stop playing the role of obedient soldier, maybe I too could have the courage to show similar convictions when the opportunity presented itself. I understand, however, that I am far from alone in having been empowered by the comic books I read as a child and continue to read today. Through stories like those of a boy with leukemia in San Francisco finding strength by being Batman for a day, and through confessions by those who once contemplated suicide before being introduced to Batman’s sidekick Robin, the power of myth remains just as strong today as it did when the supermen taking to the skies shared the same bloodline as Zeus.
This website is a community that helps remind us that we are not alone in our personal Hero’s Journey. That all over the world there are many people who are also being inspired to be their best thanks in part to the legends told of boys like Bruce Wayne and teenagers like Peter Parker. The Superhero with a Thousand Faces hopes that you too can find the myths with which you best identity, and discover how you can implement them in your personal life to live with the exuberance of which you are capable. Yes, comic books are entertaining; but even more importantly, they can provide us with a blueprint for how to endure, how to transform, and how to live. It’s been said that science fiction writers don’t write about the future, but write about what they see in the present. I believe the same could be said of those who help compose comic books. And I believe that once we better grasp the ability to look at these legends from a metaphorical standpoint, the better likelihood there is of navigating through our own labyrinths and recognizing the legends that will lead us to our destiny.