“On the Origin of Superheoes”
Lecturer: Chris Gavaler
November 27, 2017
In his book On the Origin of Superheroes: From the Big Bang to Action Comics, Chris Gavaler discusses the little recognized or little known true origin of superheroes that, contrary to popular belief, started way before Superman’s appearance. Gavaler argues that the characteristics of superheroes, unusual powers, hidden identities, special disguises, were common and creating a standard superhero long before Superman was born.
In his chapter titled “Evolution”, Chris Gavaler quotes a man named Richard Reynolds on the superhero qualities of Dr. Jekyll/ Mr. Hyde. Gavaler quotes Reynolds stating that “a superhero’s split identity makes him ‘both the exotic and the agent of order which brings the exotic to book’” (Gavaler, 137). After reading this quote, I stopped for a while to think about what Reynolds is saying and found his point very interesting. The reason we as humans have so much fascination for superheroes, Reynolds is suggesting, is because they are exotic but also familiar. We can see ourselves in them by relating to their human-like qualities, their seemingly ordinary lifestyle, their ordinary appearance, their language, their day jobs, etc. However, they also contain a hidden side that is fantastical, magical, extraordinary, and something most humans can relate to desiring at some point, such as intense strength, super speed, or the ability to fly.
Thus, as I interpret Reynolds’s quote, we as humans are so fascinated and so like superhero stories because we can relate to the superhero and imagining ourselves as them feasible or desirable. Superheroes often are cut from the same cloth as an ordinary human, or at least it appears so. Their daily lives and appearance are so similar to ours that we can relate to them and are intrigued by their stories. In other words, we relate and express interest in superhero stories because of the shared sense of origins.
Further, just as humans are interested in the stories of super humans since they share a sense or mutual origin or humanity, so are cultural, religious, national subgroups interested in the stories, lives and wellbeing of others within their own subgroups. We as humans better identify with those we share an origin or history with. A Catholic individual can likely identify more with another Catholic than an individual of a different religion, just as a human can identify more with a human-like superhero than with a completely alien mythical creature.
Overall, we can relate better to those who share a part of our identity. In the same way, we show more interest in those who we can see a part of ourselves in. Just as humans can relate to superheroes that are both exotic and similar, subgroups within mankind help people locate themselves, interact, and form close bonds with those of their own subgroups, and at the same time people learn from the seemingly exotic characteristics of those same people. Everyone is different in one way or another, and while or similarities bring us closer together, our difference help us learn and grow.