Category Archives: Superheroes

THE HEROINE’S JOURNEY: An Ever Evolving Narrative of Empowered Females in Fiction PART#1 WRITER’s Q and A

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The Heroines Journey – An Ever Evolving Narrative of Empowered Females in Fiction

Over the last year I’ve been looking into the topic of The Heroine’s Journey through books, articles, youtube videos and of course perspectives from other writers of both fiction and non-fiction. This Q&A is several questions with some expert writers I admire and respect with differing contrasting points of view including Nicole Franklin, Kate Forsyth, Alice Li, Nav. K and Mike Madrid.

There will be an accompanying article up soon on this blog where I comment on some of the Theories and Ideas that are part of the modern version of The Heroines’ Journey, and ideas discussed in this Q&A as specific or unique from Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. So you can consider this PART#1 of #2 on The Heroine’s Journey and I will link the other article to this one once it is completed and posted.

So lets get into it, I hope you enjoy reading the insightful answers from these super-smart individuals as much as I did. It took several months to come together as people live in different time zones, in different parts of the world and are usually quite busy. Thanks so much to everyone who contributed!

NICOLE FRANKLIN

Nicole Franklin

Nicole Franklin is an award-winning filmmaker. Through her 25 years in the industry Nicole has been a television director, editor, educator, and contributing writer to such publications as The Good Men Project, Toronto-based ByBlacks.com and NBCBLK. For seventeen years, her company EPIPHANY Inc. has been producing independent films for numerous cable networks including Showtime, BET, IFC, Nickelodeon, Sundance Channel, FUBU TV and kweliTV.

In addition to the narrative feature on same-race discrimination in the workplace, TITLE VII, Nicole’s other credits include The Double Dutch Divas!, Journeys In Black: the Jamie Foxx Biography, Kids Around the World, Black Enterprise Business Report, Gershwin & Bess: A Dialogue with Anne Brown and the 10-chapter series Little Brother.   Nicole’s affiliations include DGA, PGA East, NABJ, The Black Documentary Collective (BDC) and NYWIFT. NicoleFranklin.com/cine.

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Q.Why do you feel that a Heroine’s Journey is needed that is distinct from Campbell’s Hero’s Journey?  How does it differ? How is it the same? 

I think the Heroine’s Journey is needed because as a Black feminist I could not pinpoint why a number of female leads in films I grew up watching were not satisfying role models for me.  Why didn’t I root for women who could change the world—women who were on their own, not handing over the reigns to their male rescuers?  And, why didn’t I root for them on a consistent basis?

Plots and storylines are much better in recent years, but it wasn’t until I heard Alice Meichi Li articulating the characteristics of a Heroine’s Journey vs. a Hero’s Journey while she was speaking on a NY Comic Con panel that I realized most female leading roles have been under siege. Manipulation and lackluster results from a journey that thrives on a woman’s insecurities and borderline insanity seem to have been acceptable practice for years. Li made me rethink The Wizard of Oz after seeing it hundreds of times. Once certain characteristics of female-driven stories seep into our subconscious as media consumers we’re doomed!

Q.How can writers adapt the Heroine’s Journey to their stories? (Nicole: I’m combining questions 2 and 3 here)

First writers have to realize there is a distinction between successfully writing a heroine into movie history or into oblivion. As illustrator Alice Meichi Li has noted, there is a fascination with the goddess/supernatural character Joseph Campbell often describes now being a hindrance, and not at all helpful as she would be to a man on a mission. Is it more of a standard to see backstabbing and deception between women when one’s happiness is within arm’s reach? You bet.

Second, more female writers and directors need to be hired as showrunners and creatives behind the scripts and behind the camera on an equal employment basis. Putting these two very simple suggestions into practice would be a terrific start.

Next, films, books and art are part of commercial business. Audiences must support heroines who rock with their dollars. Li mapped out a guide for what writers should avoid in their storylines starring female leads when I interviewed her for The Good Men Project here: http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/heros-journey-vs-heroines-journey-rewriting-privilege/

Q.What changes need to happen in society to further develop the idea of The Heroine’s Journey? (Nicole: See Question above)

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Q.What advice do you have for creators (male and female) who want to create good well rounded female characters?

I would refer creators to my article The Hero’s Journey vs. The Heroine’s Journey: Rewriting Privilege featuring illustrator Alice Meichi Li. Talking to her was so eye-opening for me as an artist, executive producer and feminist.

Q.What impact do you see The Heroine’s Journey having on the literature, films, comics etc of tomorrow?

We have a long way to go when it comes to a female protagonist whom audiences can cheer and demand sequels of beyond the small screen and printed pages of comics. Digital distribution outlets are now the widened doors independent artists have needed for years in order to reach a global audience. This is actually an exciting time to be a creator. And if recent box office numbers of Hollywood films starring talented, three-dimensional female leads are any indication, then this successful model has no choice but to continue and prosper. Bravo!

Where can people find you online, what websites do you contribute to, recommend etc?

Thanks for asking Jonny! I love connecting with people through my website, NicoleFranklin.com. Also, all of my social media profiles are there. I also am the founder of the tech education initiative Hack4Hope.org and the Executive Producer of LittleBrotherFilm.com, a 10-chapter film series with producer J. Tiggett on young Black males and their thoughts on Love.  As a writer I contribute to The Good Men Project, NBCBLK and Toronto’s ByBlacks.com.

You can also find Nicole on Youtube at  https://www.youtube.com/user/Nicoleedits/about?&ab_channel=NicoleFranklin

KATE FORSYTH

Kate Forsyth

Kate Forsyth wrote her first novel when she was only 7, and is now the bestselling, award-winning author of more than 25 books, including The Wild Girl and Bitter Greens for adults, and The Puzzle Ring, The Gypsy Crown, The Starkin Crown, and Grumpy Grandpa for children. Her books have been translated into 13 languages. You can read more about Kate at www.kateforsyth.com.au

Q. Why do you feel that a Heroine’s Journey is needed that is distinct from Campbell’s Hero’s Journey?

To be honest, I see the hero in Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey as being a non-gender specific term. A girl can be a hero just as much as a boy. However, both Campbell’s language in describing the mono-mythic Hero’s Journey and subsequent usages of the format are highly male-focused, so perhaps talking about a ‘Heroine’s Journey’ can open up new ways of thinking and describing a woman’s journey of self-discovery and change.

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Q. How does it differ? How is it the same? [as Campbell’s]

For me, the journey of all my female protagonists follow the mono-mythic pattern of moving through darkness towards light, and through a process of transformation that changes them from the beginning of the story to the end. The trials that they face, the ordeals and obstacles that they overcome, are very different according to the kind of story I am telling … and the type of person my heroine is.

The Hero’s Journey is often just a way of thinking about story structure … and in that sense, it does not matter whether the hero is male or female, or even human at all. I think the secret is not to be too rigid in following the Hero’s Journey – to think of ways to make it fresh and new and surprising. And recasting this quest in the shape of a Heroine’s Journey is one way to do so.

Q. How can writers adapt the Heroine’s Journey to their particular stories?

I always try and think – what does my hero/heroine want? What stands in their way? What is the cost of failure? What do they need to learn before they can get what they want? And then I plan their journey, placing more emphasis on the key psychological turning points in the narrative structure.

Q. What changes need to happen in society to further develop the idea of The Heroine’s Journey?

I’d love to see more movies made with strong, complex and interesting female characters. Often movie and TV makers (as well as novelists) think the way to make a heroine strong and heroic is to make her more masculine – I don’t think this is necessary at all.

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Q. What advice do you have for creators (male and female) who want to create good well rounded female characters that engage the audience/reader?

Make your characters flawed, with real-life fears and problems, and then show them as they grow and change on their journey. Dynamic characters are always more interesting than ones that do not change.

Q. What impact do you see The Heroine’s Journey having on the literature, films, comics, games etc of tomorrow?

I’d love to see more films and books and games being female-centric, with strong protagonists and an interesting character arc.

Q. Where can people find you online? 

My main website is Kate Forsyth at http://www.kateforsyth.com.au/

You can also find me on Facebook, Pinterest and my Amazon Author Page at the below links:

ALICE MEICHI LI

Alice Meichi Li

Alice Meichi Li  is a New York based visual artist and illustrator for comic books, magazines, and album covers. She is the creator of the independent comic book Sherbert Lock. Alice has received numerous awards and nominations from organisations such as the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles and the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Alice also contributed words and pictures to Nicole’s article “The Hero’s Journey vs. The Heroine’s Journey: Rewriting Privilege” that inspired this BATFAN Q&A you are reading right now.

Q.Why do you feel that a Heroine’s Journey is needed that is distinct from Campbell’s Hero’s Journey?  How does it differ? How is it the same? 

In a society like ours where women have historically struggled for equality, it’s hard enough to get to a level playing field — let alone set upon a journey for self-actualization. The Hero’s Journey is exactly that: a coming-of-age story where a boy can become a fully-actualized man and surpass his own masters through trials and tribulations.

On Maslow’s Hierarchy, multiple needs must be met before a person can achieve self-actualization, including the physiological, safety, love/belonging, and esteem. If a story takes place in a society like ours where many women can’t even feel safe walking around in our own gender, how can we ever achieve true self-actualization?

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I keep stipulating “in a society like ours” because there are plenty of heroines that take the Hero’s Journey in fictional worlds where they fortunately aren’t bound to a system of patriarchy. (see: Nickelodeon’s Legend of Korra) So my definition of a Heroine’s Journey is that where a lesser-privileged protagonist, most likely a woman, sets upon a path to achieve normality or equality to that where a Hero might just be starting off.

Where there are trials that will help the Hero along his way, there are traps and tricks that await the Heroine as she tries to obtain equilibrium in a world that has seemingly gone mad. Where there are Masters to guide the Hero along, there are wolves in sheep’s clothing to manipulate the Heroine along.

Great examples of the Heroine’s Journey would be Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. At the end, neither Dorothy nor Alice become lauded as great heroes. They just return to the normal lives in their normal homes that they were striving for all along.

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Heroine’s Journeys reflect the struggles of women in a patriarchal society where being a woman basically means that the body you were born in impedes you from getting ahead the same way a man can. It can feel awfully like a world gone mad when a woman is constantly told by society that her life isn’t worth as much as that of a fetus.

That the work she does is worth around 77% as much as a man’s work, that she ought to keep at the “Drink Me” bottle to shrink small enough to fit society’s standards, or that she needs to destroy other women (Wicked Witches) to achieve her goals when in reality it’s actually a man behind the curtain who has the true power over her.


Q. How can writers adapt the Heroine’s Journey to their stories?A common piece of advice I see is “Just write a female character like a man”. Well, yes and no. If the story takes place in a patriarchy, but the woman faces zero consequences to acting like a man, then this is completely unrealistic. While I don’t agree with strictly adhering to a gender binary, I recognize that society does.People who fall outside of that gender binary inevitably face challenges from the people around them, and these challenges shape who they are.I had a great conversation with Phil Jimenez (writer/artist for Wonder Woman) once about how Superman couldn’t be written exactly the same if he were a woman, because people would treat him like a woman.
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Would the Daily Planet run the same exact articles on Superman if he were a woman? Wouldn’t there be the inevitable criticisms of her appearance or choice of costume?

Look at how the press treats male actors versus female actors in interviews. (For example — the types of questions Scarlett Johannson received from the press for her role in Avengers versus the types of questions her male co-stars received.

Spoiler alert: They tended to center around her body, costume and weight-loss, whereas her male co-stars were given more difficult questions about actual acting) There’s always going to be a slant. How a female Superman would react to *that* reaction would then shape her character differently than a male Superman.

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Q. What changes need to happen in society to further develop the idea of The Heroine’s Journey?To actually develop a Heroine’s Journey into a Hero’s Journey, we’d need to achieve true equality as a basis for all prospective Heroines to launch their journeys. Calling back to my response to the first question, it’s hard to focus on mastering any goal to a heroic extent if one’s basic needs aren’t even being met.

Q. What advice do you have for creators (male and female) who want to create good well rounded female characters?

First, read stories about real women and the obstacles they’ve had to overcome themselves. When encountering people who express the hardships they’ve experienced, listen or read with an open mind and open heart. Don’t be afraid to be wrong or question your pre-existing assumptions.

Second, don’t use rape or sexual assault as a character development tool unless you *really* know what you’re doing. And most people — men and women who haven’t been sexually assaulted — don’t. Even on Mad Mad: Fury Road, George Miller brought Eve Ensler (Vagina Monologues) on board as a consultant to make sure they portrayed a wide range of rape victims realistically and sympathetically.

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Q. What impact do you see The Heroine’s Journey having on the literature, films, comics, games etc of tomorrow?

Ultimately, I hope that exposing the struggles that Heroines have to deal with to achieve true equality will help others to be able to put themselves in a Heroine’s shoes and develop empathy for those who are less privileged than they are. But also, it’s just about time we had more stories focused on marginalized protagonists within their societies. In a way, the Hero’s Journey is easier to do than a Heroine’s Journey where a protagonist is just not the “right type” of person to succeed in that world.


Q. Where can people find you online? 

Here are the places you can follow my work…

http://alicemeichi.com
http://alicemeichi.tumblr.com
http://facebook.com/alicemeichili
http://twitter.com/alicemeichi

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I’m also doing covers for my husband’s comic, Sherbet, which is a dark comedy/sci-fi story that focuses on a lesbian detective who solves paranormal mysteries in a steampunk-inspired vaguely British future. (It’s okay because he’s British, too)  Sherbet would be another example of a woman who’s not adhering to a patriarchal society’s Heroine’s Journey.
NAV K

Nav K

Nav K is a writer and Blogger in Australia, a big Superman and DC fan who writes in depth insightful articles covering the DCU in Comics, Television and Film. You can find her brilliant Girl-On-Comic-Book-World blog at https://girloncomicbookworld.com/

She also writes about the Marvel theatrical films and Netflix TV shows such as Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. She was last seen flying somewhere over the city of Metropolis.

Q. Why do you feel that a Heroine’s Journey is needed that is distinct from Campbell’s Hero’s Journey?

Considering Campbell’s Hero Journey structure was created a few decades ago, looking back at it you can see that it is very specific for a male hero. The structure draws upon stories that have come from the past, meaning it draws upon many stories where women were viewed more so as objects, to accompany a man, have children, be a prize etc therefore the structure isn’t completely relevant to a heroine’s journey. Because of critical social change over the past few decades it’s important to re-contextualize the hero’s journey to better fit a female protagonist.

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Q. How does it differ? How is it the same? [as Campbell’s] 

Universal elements from Campbell’s model that should be used in a heroine’s journey include the character being drawn into the adventure, facing psychological and/or physical threats and finishing the journey in a changed manner. However the heroine’s journey should take in aspects that are specifically related to females. The hero’s journey is often presented as a solo journey, however as women are typically communal the solo quest may not work as well. Also it’s important to incorporate the conflicting roles many women have in the life such as the family/work balance, maternal instincts etc.

Q. How can writers adapt the Heroine’s Journey to their particular stories?

Writers shouldn’t limit themselves to a strict structure for a heroine’s journey. Really what’s most important is to understand that you are writing a female’s journey, not a man’s journey, so don’t ignore feminine attributes. Not all female characters have to have some inherent maternal instinct, or longing for a community, however a heroine’s journey shouldn’t be afraid of incorporating female attributes.

Q. What changes need to happen in society to further develop the idea of The Heroine’s Journey? 

I think once this stigma is removed that no one cares about female leads, we will get a much better start on developing the idea of the heroine’s journey. Creators still choose to stick to the traditional male hero archetype as it’s a safer bet than focusing on a female lead. Once creators get an idea of greater acceptance in society for female leads, they will start creating better female characters. Just looking at the superhero sphere, there has been a lot of controversy at Marvel for their failure to recognise their female heroes as equals.

Black Widow doesn’t get toys and solo movies, and it won’t be until 2018 that we see a solo female superhero movie from Marvel. This is happening because Marvel don’t believe that a female hero can sell right now. So they will wait until Wonder Woman makes her debut and gauge the audience reaction to her so that they can commit more.

But considering there has been this controversy in the first place, from both female and male audience, recognises that there is an acceptance and want for more heroine leads. Furthermore understanding that the emotional side of a heroine isn’t a weakness can help propel the idea of the heroine’s journey, removing the idea that only the emotionless yet aggressive male heroes are the only heroic lead that works.

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Q. What advice do you have for creators (male and female) who want to create good well rounded female characters that engage the audience/reader?

Don’t be afraid to embrace the femininity of the character. You often see creators trying to develop “strong female characters” by stripping away the very aspects that make them female, and emphasizing their masculinity.

Writers shouldn’t be afraid to show emotional vulnerability, maternal instincts, communal values etc from female characters because they may be afraid of creating a weak female character. Just looking at one of the most talked about strong female characters in film this year, Furiosa from Mad Max perfectly captured her femininity, maternal instincts and strength.

Q. What impact do you see The Heroine’s Journey having on the literature, films, comics, games etc of tomorrow?

Its clear creators are having a stronger focus on female characters. You can watch an action movie now where the female isn’t just always the damsel in distress character anymore, we have stories like Mad Max, Hunger Games etc. Especially within the superhero sphere you can see the huge impact the heroine’s journey is having.

Wonder Woman who has for the longest time been viewed as this feminist icon is finally getting her debut on film decades after her creation. And we can see in these female superheroes that they aren’t being stripped of their femininity to create a “strong female character”, these characters are embracing it.

Q. Where can people find you online? 

You can find me at girloncomicbookworld.wordpress.com which is basically a place with discussion and opinion on everything comic book related from movies to TV to actual comic books!

Follow Nav on Twitter @Nav_Kay

Nav K articles:

Comic Book Movie Articles

Comic Book TV Shows

Comic Book Character Analyses

MIKE MADRID

 Mike MadridMike Madrid is a native San Franciscan and a life long fan of comic books and popular culture. The former advertising executive is the creative director at Exterminating Angel Press. He is featured in the documentary “Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines.” He also has a fantastic TV news anchor worthy mustache.

Q. Why do you feel that a Heroine’s Journey is needed that is distinct from Campbell’s Hero’s Journey? How does it differ? How is it the same?

Traditionally in Hero’s Journey stories, the male protagonist starts out being hindered either by youth, inexperience, or both. But he often has a mentor to guide him on his journey to being a hero. However, the fledgling is never shown to actually be hammered by his gender. This is not the case with many heroines in comic books.

Women who want to take on heroic roles in comics often have their abilities questioned simply because they are female. And this skepticism often comes from their fellow male heroes. These women usually need to undertake this journeys to heroism on their own, without the help of a mentor. So, the Heroine can start off her journey facing adversity not only from her foes, but her allies as well.

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Q. How can writers adapt the Heroine’s Journey to their particular stories?

I’m not sure that a female hero has to have a distinctly different journey from a male. The motivation for being a hero should be the same for a woman or a man:the desire to make the world a better place. The end goal is going to be the same, although the woman may face additional or different challenges along the way. A woman’s methods may differ from a man’s, but that’s what will make her a believable character.

Marvel’s current version of Thor, who is a woman, is an interesting example of a female hero’s journey. The new Thor has had quickly assumed a mantle of great power, and the reader sees her jump right in and grasp her new role. She displays a formidable persona that convinces her fellow heroes of her tremendous abilities.

But through Thor’s internal dialogue the reader can experience how this heroine is evolving in this role and learning about her new life. So she seems like a real character without having to be presented as a bumbling newcomer trying to figure out how to swing her hammer.

Q. What changes need to happen in society to further develop the idea of The Heroine’s Journey? 

Well, obviously women have to be viewed as being equal to men. This is a challenge in America, where women aren’t paid the same as men and where we’ve never had a female president. As much as comic books present this fantastic view of the world, often the values seen in these stories are much the same as what we see every day in our so-called “real world”.

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Q. What advice do you have for creators (male and female) who want to create good well rounded female characters that engage the audience/reader?

It’s good that the mainstream comics industry has finally recognized that there is a sizable readership, both female and male, who will buy titles featuring strong heroines. The problem is that these characters are sometimes just written as men, with breasts.

I think the most successful recent incarnations of Marvel’s Black Widow and Spider-Woman and DC’s rebooted Batgirl are good examples of characters that are shown as strong and capable, but still also come off as believable women. A woman doesn’t need to suppress her female nature just because she has taken on a heroic role. She can be strong and brave, but still show compassion and understanding.

Q. What impact do you see The Heroine’s Journey having on the literature, films, comics, games etc of tomorrow?

I think the Heroine’s Journey can teach readers, particularly female readers, how to overcome obstacles in order to achieve their goals. However, I feel like comics often focus on this journey for too long in the case of female heroes. While people ideally continue to grow and learn new things throughout their lives, as a certain point I feel it’s important to show female characters as established heroes rather than continually putting them in the role of novice.

This has been the case with Wonder Woman throughout her long career. Male writers seem to think she is a more interesting character when she is the outsider learning what it takes to be a hero. And so we have seen her origin story continually retooled and her journey toward heroism beginning anew again and again. I prefer when Wonder Woman is simply presented as an established hero on the same level as her contemporaries Superman and Batman, rather than a few steps behind them.

Q. Where can people find you online? What projects / websites / books etc are you involved in?

Besides The SupergirlsDivas Dames & Daredevils and the companion volume Vixens Vamps & Vipers, I am doing a series of collections of the adventures of some of my favorite Golden Age heroines like Black Angel and Spider Widow. You can find more information about my books at  heaven4heroes.com.

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Note from BATFAN JOHN: I own all three of these books, and I highly recommend them, Supergirls is a fun informal history of female pulp characters and Superheroines, while Mike’s other two books contain reprints of vintage comics along with some introductory essays to the comics and their era. You can find Mike’s books on Amazon.

THANK YOU so much to everyone who made this article so much fun to put together and read. Thanks to Nicole, Kate, Alice, Nav and Mike. Words can not express how grateful I am to you all for your insightful and interesting diverse answers to my Questions.
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5 ESSENTIAL SUPER LIFE LESSONS FROM MELISSA BENOIST’S SUPERGIRL

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There is nothing in my life that I would go back and change, even the darkest moments. All the successes and greatest joys in my life are a result of the absolute worst things. Every missed opportunity is a blessing is disguise – Ronda Rousey

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1.YOU CAN NEVER GO BACK TO YOUR OLD LIFE, BUT YOU CAN REINVENT YOURSELF AND KEEP MOVING FORWARD

With the painful loss of her home planet of Krypton, her whole way of life and everything she knew – it was the toughest event that Kara Zor-El ever faced. But the loss of Krypton was the gain of Kara’s new home on earth, her new earth foster family, her new super powers and becoming the selfless iconic hero Supergirl.

Kara would never have become Supergirl if not for the death of her parents, the same way Bruce Wayne would never have become Batman without the death of his parents, or Kara’s cousin Kal-El would never have become Superman.

Krypton’s loss was earth’s gain. Kara’s ordinary life was destroyed, and she was called to her destiny on earth. But it wasn’t easy. For years she hid her powers and who she was from all but her foster family. Eventually Kara embraced her new self – superpowers, being an alien outsider on a new world and became Supergirl. She embraced living the unique life that only Kara Zor-El could live.

I love pretty much everything about our Kara. She’s pretty, strong, kind, caring, helpful, adorable and becomes badass when she has to –  Reddit User ‘Furan_Ring’

Supergirl illustration Melissa Benoist

2.WHEN PEOPLE LOVE YOU – KEEP BEING A HERO WHEN PEOPLE HATE YOU  – KEEP BEING A HERO

Don’t let other people’s perception of who you are and what you stand for shape your core values. Whether people love, hate or are indifferent to you, you must live the life only you know how to live, and live the principles, values and choices that makes the most sense to you right now.

We can’t predict the future, we don’t know what good or bad consequences will come of our actions, but we do know the values we live by, and if we are not happy with that, we can upgrade our values to better ones and develop new habits that serve us rather than hold us back.

Heroes choose their own values, mission and code of behavior to live by, they don’t wait for someone to tell them what to do and they don’t ask permission to be who they know they have to be.

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There are times when people will love and support what you do. You can accept support from others, but don’t become dependent on that, instead welcome all who choose to help you, but be self-reliant and accept no excuses for living anything less than an authentic life.

There are times when people may hate you, or what you stand for. They may openly ciriticise you, or do it behind your back. You can waste you time and efforts trying to manage others people’s perception of you, or you can simply be indifferent to people’s ideas about you – good or bad.

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Being free of the need for approval or criticism means you live life on your own terms. It doesn’t mean being rude and arrogant to people you disagree with or don’t like. It does mean affirming who you are and not letting people push you around, and being immune to other people’s ideas about who you are and what you should do with your life.

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Instead you must choose your own way of life and maintain an inner light that never wavers. A hero’s inner light and belief in themselves stays lit through the darkest stormiest night and brightest day and is unchanging.

The world corrupts those who are easily corrupted, while those who stand firm in their belief in themselves are untouchable by any force in this world.

So whether people love you, or hate or are indifferent to you – keep living the life only you know how to live, keep being a hero or heroine in your own unique way.

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3. SOME BATTLES WE MUST FIGHT ALONE, WHILE OTHERS WE HAVE TO ASK FOR THE HELP AND CO-OPERATION OF THOSE ON WHOM WE DEPEND

We all have things we must do for ourselves by ourselves each day, and then there are tasks in life that are beyond us and our current abilities, in these times we must ask for help. We all need co-operation in our lives if want to become greater than we were yesterday, and be excited about tomorrow.

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We all need friends, family, associates and well wishers to co-operate with if we want to keep overcoming obstacles in our lives, or get projects done that are simply too big for one person, no matter how smart, strong, resilient or talented.

A heroine looks after her family and friends and all those whom depend on her. And she knows the people who truly value her will be there for her when she needs them. Co-operation allows us to get large projects done and things that would be impossible for one person to ever achieve. To be greater than we were yesterday and excited for tomorrow, we need to cultivate healthy relationships with friends, family and associates.

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4. FAMILY IS NOT JUST BLOOD, BUT THE PEOPLE WHO SHOW UP IN YOUR LIFE

Family are the people who show up in your life who love you and support you unconditionally. We are all born with one type of family. Some people have families that love and support them. Other people have families that treat them poorly or even abuse them. Most of us find our experience lies somewhere in between the two extremes of unconditional love and outright abuse.

But along with our biological family, are the people who show up in our lives and love us, who support us, without anyone ever asking them to, and without being related by blood.

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So whether blood relative or just someone who chooses to be part of your life, family is whoever shows up and loves you, whoever supports you in your choices even when they disagree with them. Loving someone only when they agree with you is not really love. The people who show up in our lives and support us no matter what choices we make are like rare jewels in this world – they are people to be treasured and appreciated.

As Kara is an alien outsider in this world, we too at times feel likes outsiders. We all need to find our own version of fitting in and belonging. To accomplish that we can either compromise who we are and try to “fit in” with other people and their values – or we can look for a tribe that already shares our common values, that accept us for who we are, rather than belittle us for what we are not and will never be. Those who truly love us and support us are our family every bit as much as our blood relatives.

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5. BE YOURSELF – THE UNIQUE SELF THAT THE WORLD NEEDS YOU TO BE

Conformity means taking on others peoples values as more important than your own. It means taking on other peoples ideas about who you are, what you should do, and their own selfish opinions about how you should live your life. No other persons “opinion” about you, should ever be more important than your own opinion of yourself.

No other person has the right to choose your values for you, or try and live your life for you. You MUST choose your own values, go your own way and be uniquely you, you must BE YOURSELF  because you simply can’t be anyone else. It’s just not possible.

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Only you are uniquely qualified to know how to be the best version of yourself. The world demands and expects conformity, it expects well behaved polite automatons who don’t think for themselves. But doing that means not only compromising who you are, it means depriving the world of your unique talents and abilities.

The world demands conformity and mindless drones, but what it NEEDS is unique individuals who say “YES!” to life, people unafraid to express themselves, and live their unique lives as only they can.

The world needs people who accept themselves and know it is “okay” to be you, it is okay be different. It is okay be strange and flawed, to feel doubts, insecurity and vulnerability. To be vulnerable is to be human.

Our differences are what make us unique and often the source of hidden strengths.

Supergirl hands on hip confident smile Melissa Benoist

People who live fearlessly are the ones ones who shape our future, they are often invisible leaders and trend-setters, they are paradigm busters and rebels, they refuse to be classified or labeled or held back by any kind of limiting belief. They also get scared and doubt themselves and have both spectacular successes and monumental failures in life.

They are our heroes and super-heroes. They are our family and our friends. They are our peer groups. They are YOU and me. Because no hero or heroine can accomplish anything worthwhile by themselves. We are in this life together.

Heroines and Heroes stand up for themselves and just as important – they stand up for those who are not able to stand up for themselves, for the people who have no voice in this world.

The greater our co-operation, the greater our capacity to love, the greater is our potential as everyday heroes and heroines – the kind the world needs to stand up for what they believe in and be heard with a unique voice and one of a kind perspective.

Supergirl Melissa Benoist with Super Girl Scouts

The Secret About ‘Why We Need Superheroes’ Everybody Should Know

 

SUPERHEROES ARE AN INSPIRATION AND REMINDER OF THE GREATER OFTEN UNTAPPED POTENTIALS OF HUMANITY AND IN YOU

Superheroes are a reminder in our darkest times of our inherent potential for greatness.

As we grow from children to adults, we need role models to imprint on, who are usually our parents and people in our immediate environment. Sometimes those people are good role models, other times they are not.

When we are kids, superheroes are most appealing for their bright colors, and exciting action packed adventures. As we mature into teenagers and adults, superheroes are more appealing for their moral character and the way they challenge us to better ourselves. They are living inspiration, their dynamic exciting adventures allow us to see how our values play out in a story, and the consequences of our actions.

The moral development of Superheroes (or lack of) can inspire us to be better people. While characters like Captain America and Superman are reminders of the best qualities in humanity – courage, strength, resilience, compassion, hope, empathy etc characters like Wolverine or The Punisher – avatars of anger, vengeance and hatred are reminders of people and values we don’t want to aspire to.

EVERY KID AND ADULT NEEDS INSPIRATION BEYOND THEIR ORDINARY EVERYDAY LIFE

The stark contrast in values from say Superman to Batman to Wolverine or Wonder Woman challenges us with moral complexity. Reading these characters forces us to take some sort of view, to agree or disagree with their actions. Seeing them in action forces us to look at our own values and think “What would I do in that situation?”

Other inspirations from superheroes include physically weak children who like the strength of superheroes and grow up to be people who work to grow stronger both physically and mentally in their daily lives.

Some people are inspired by the Superheroes mission, purpose or creed and find their way in life goes a little smoother when they choose a purpose of their own.

Some people are inspired by the superhero ideal of selfless service to humanity, standing up for your values, or being a force of positive social change – which reflects real life heroes such as Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King or the Dalai Lama – all of whom are tireless servants who work for a better tomorrow, whose lives are living examples and tributes of the values they embody, who work towards peace and lifting up those of us who are most vulnerable in a sometimes cruel and hostile world.

WE INVENTED SUPERHEROES TO REMIND US OF HOPE AND ALL THE BEST QUALITIES AND POTENTIALS OF HUMANITY

It’s no accident that Superman turned up around the time of Hitler being in power in Nazi Germany. For evil to exist in the world, there needs to be a counterbalance, and although Superman is a fictional character – Superman is far more important than Hitler will ever be.

And although he’s not real, Superman (and all other great archetypal superheroes) have inspired millions of people in the real world not only to have hope and courage, but to better  themselves and stand up for their fellow human beings, and to live with purpose and gratitude. Taking responsibility for themselves, and those whom depend on them.

Superheroes are like lightning rods for unleashing our own inherent potentials. By seeing our heroes in action, we are reminded how important in life is the ongoing process of Waking Up, Growing Up and Showing Up, of being our most authentic self in daily life.

SUPERHEROES ARE WAKING DREAMS THAT EXIST AS PURE IMAGINATION WHILE INFLUENCING OUR REAL WORLD

While comic book superheroes are a modern invention, we’ve had some form of hero story around as long as we have been on this planet, in one form or another. Every culture in every age has had its hero/heroine stories – and those that didn’t just went ahead and invented new heroes. Superheroes don’t come from “out there” in the exterior world, they come from “in here”, from the depths of our hearts and souls.

They are idealised figures that represent our best greatest hopes, dreams, values in a form that is far more immediately engaging and entertaining that mere abstract words and ideas could ever convey.

batman motivational 400 a hero can be anyone

Superheroes in their purest form are mythic archetypes, they are pure ideas of inspiration and a reminder of the great potential of humanity. Their strength lies in their home dimension of imagination. Trying to make them “realistic” is kind of missing the point of their very existence.

Superheroes are here to inspire us and raise us up metaphorically. They are not here to replace us, or do the hard work of living for us. Each of us must find our own hero within , our own values, mission and purpose in life if we wish to live a truly satisfying life.

superman motivational 400 never stop fighting

WE NEED A HERO! 3 Brilliant Writers Answer 5 Questions on Heroism

Mark D White Alex Wainer Nav K super hero non fiction writers supreme team superman batman captain america Q&A blog.jpg

It’s no secret that I love Batman as  a fictional character. I Iove to read Batman comics and also other non-fiction books on Batman, and basically anything to do with Heroes really. And if there is one thing more awesome than reading great articles and non-fiction books by super-smart people, it’s talking directly to them so see what they really feel about the topic of Heroes, Heroines and Heroism.

So kick back and enjoy this roundtable Q&A with 3 Amazing Experts! We have three Wonderful Writers whose works make my humble blog pale in comparison. Their depth and insight on the topics of Heroes, Superheroes and Heroism leaps over tall buildings in a single bound! Together they are stronger than a locomotive and faster than a speeding bullet!

So who are these talented folks you ask?

Alex M. Wainer – author of Soul of the Dark Knight: Batman as Mythic Figure in Comics and Film

Nav Kumaravithana  prolific fellow blogger on Superheroes and Comicbooks at Girl on Comic Book World who always has brilliant insights in her articles.

Mark D. White – Author of… too many books to count! Including Batman and Philosophy, Superman and Philosophy, and my favourite: The Virtues of Captain America

So let’s get to those pressing ponderous Questions dear reader!

Q: What is a Hero / Heroine (in your own words)?

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Alex: A hero of course is someone who goes beyond the average person in effort, courage, and competence in achieving goals, usually military, moral and who offers some form of rescue, example and inspiration to others.

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Nav KNav K: A hero is an individual who goes above and beyond their obligations. They are morally stronger individuals who pursue their goals no matter what the obstacles are. It is their constant devotion to good and their willingness to even make a personal sacrifice and go beyond their abilities to help others that separates them from others. It’s not necessarily about saving people’s lives or anything that dramatic,

it’s just about having the compassion and empathy to go out of one’s way to help others and be a force for    good no matter what challenges confront them.

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Mark: To me, a hero (male or female) is someone who makes an extraordinary sacrifice for another person or a principle
larger than him or her.

Q: What three qualities/skills/attributes do you feel every hero must have?

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Alex: Some ethical code rooted in universally shared moral values. Perseverance too. [See also Alex’s answer to the previous Question]

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Nav KNav: Strong moral compass: Heroes have a strong sense of what’s good and bad. It’s their deep beliefs that drive them to their heroic nature. They are confident enough to choose to live and die by their personal values.

Willingness to go beyond what is expected and obliged from them: We all have certain roles that we are expected to fill in life. A hero extends their obligated roles and does more for the sake of others.

A Desire to selflessly help others: Putting others before themselves is a true test of heroism. It’s easy for the ordinary individual to be selfish and service their own needs and wants before others, and that doesn’t make them a bad person, it just makes them normal. A hero is someone who genuinely wants to and will put the needs of other before themselves. They are compassionate and empathetic enough to help others no matter what.

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Mark: First, courage—a hero has to have courage to do the right thing regardless of physical danger as well as disapproval or ridicule from others. The latter, which we can call moral courage, is all too often forgotten, but is more important than physical courage for the kind of heroism we can all practice, such as sticking up for the downtrodden and oppressed against the crowd and saying no to everyday injustices wherever we find them.

Second, judgment—a hero needs sound judgment to decide when intervention is needed and what to do. It’s not enough to set out “to do what’s right”—the hero needs judgment to determine what the right thing to do in a certain circumstance is.

Finally, determination or resolve—it’s one thing for a hero to decide to do what’s right, and it’s another thing
entirely to stick with it in the face of obstacles and opposition.

Q: Why do you feel that heroes (whether real life heroes or heroes in fiction) are important?

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Alex: I could quote Aunt May’s remarks in Spider-Man 2, as they sum it up nicely. Although there is danger in some forms of hero worship, it seems all culture in all times have either wanted or needed heroes—in real life, to provide leadership and rescue, in stories to embody the ideals of that culture, and because they are simply enthralling entertainments that offers us someone with their values tested in conflict.

Nav K

Nav: The idea of individuals, whether fictional or not, being out there with the willingness to be the best person they can and be a force for good for other people, is an important and inspirational force that people need in their lives. Heroes are role models that have the capability to rise above any obstacles and weaknesses, to achieve their goals. They are resilient, selfless and remain strong in the face of challenge.

Ultimately that serves two very important functions in the world. It gives people an ideal to strive towards, and gives people the sense that even in their darkest moments there is someone good out there, giving them hope that the world isn’t that bad and they can escape that darkness. Having positive hero figures out there is about giving people hope at the end of the day. Even if the hero is fictional, it’s the overall idea that they stand for that can help an individual even at the lowest moments (after all ideas are bulletproof).

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Mark: I think heroes are important because they show us we can be better, that we can transcend our everyday concerns and do something extraordinary for someone or something else. We’re all far too cynical these days, and heroes remind us that there is good out there—good in us—and we just need to bring it out.

Q: Who some of your all time favourite real world heroes?

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Alex: Oh, man, that’s a tough one. I admire many of our soldiers who did their duty in recent wars despite less than stellar leadership or policies. Ronald Reagan was the last great president we had and he acted from deep conviction without disrespecting his political opponents. The problem with real-life prospective heroes is that they haven’t finished their run yet and could still blow it in someway. (This is why the Catholic church waits till someone is deceased before starting to consider someone for sainthood, we are all running a race and it’s the end that counts.

Nav KNav: Weirdly enough I’ve never really had any definitive all-time favourite real world heroes, because of my overly sceptical natural state of self I try not to over-idealise people. But in saying that I have a great deal of respect for people who have the courage to and are willing to go against the grain, and fight for their beliefs, not matter the uphill battle it is. There are countless figures in history who have had the world mock them for their goals, only to use that hate as momentum to achieve their goals that better society.

And although I’m not one to idealise celebrities, one individual who I have a deep respect for is Emma Watson. She is a heroine in her own right. She doesn’t care how many faceless internet users call her campaign “feminazi” propaganda, she passionately pursues gender equality even in the face of the harsh spotlight. And even though feminism has become this taboo word for many actresses because of the ridiculous connotations associated with it, Watson sticks to her beliefs and is in a unique position of power to actually have the potential to make an impactful change.

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Mark: It changes every day – today it’s the three young men who stopped the terrorist on a train from Amsterdam to Paris last week. Three people who saw danger, forgot about their own safety, and confronted danger to protect others—they’re my favorite heroes today. Tomorrow it might be the firefighter who rushes into the fire to save a family, or the soldier who jumps on a grenade to save his or her unit—or the eight-year-old girl who stands up to bullies picking on her friend on the
playground.

Q: And who are some of your all time favourite fictional heroes?

Alex M Wainer 150Alex: Well, who could that be for my main man? In comics, Batman of course, although he is quickly followed by Captain America. Daredevil often. Sherlock Holmes has endured for good reasons. Captain Kirk before the reboot. I really like Superman but it’s so hard to find good stories about him. Jean Valjean from Les Miserables. I guess those are at the top.

batman resized looking over city Nav KNav: Cliché answer but my all-time favourite fictional hero is 100% good old Superman. Yes I know it’s a slightly lame answer, but there hasn’t been a character that’s resonated more with me than Superman. He’s Clark Kent, a guy who grew up on a farm and one day found out he was an alien, and suddenly had to deal with all the expectations and sense of responsibility that comes with. He could choose to just ignore his powers and carry on with a normal life, which he would love, but instead because of his nature and the nurture of the Kents he chooses to be more.

He chooses to be there for people, and give people a sense of hope in a cynical world. For those that only know the character by name, they think he’s a boring hero because he’s a boy scout who always knows what the right thing is to do and does it. But that really isn’t true. He has to look at the world, and what he believes would be acceptable and then make base his actions off of that and what his own morals are. And sure he doesn’t always make the right decision, but he learns from his mistakes. And that’s what makes him such a great hero. He steps up to the challenge.

Superman is welcoming of other people’s ideals and views, and balances that with his own moral compass. He has the courage and strength to fight for truth, freedom and justice no matter what the adversary is. He always believes in the goodness of humanity, even when they give him every reason not to, and it’s that continued sense of hope that makes him such a great hero. Believing in people, even when they don’t believe in themselves.

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Mark D White profile 150Mark: My favorite is (no surprise) Captain America, because he exemplifies all three attributes mentioned above.I also like Batman because he represents an extreme version of heroism—sacrificing his entire life to a mission to fight crime and pursuing that mission with flawless determination—that I wouldn’t hold up as an example for anyone, but I find endlessly fascinating to read about. Finally, I really like Ben Grimm, the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing from the Fantastic Four; he was dealt a rotten deal from the universe but, even though he feels sorry for himself once in a while, he still dedicates his life to
helping others while keeping a sense of humor about life. All superheroes, of course. 😉 But none hold a candle to the ordinary people who do extraordinary things each and every day.

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Q: Where can people find you / your work online?

Alex M Wainer 150Alex: I used to have a blog until about four years ago but as you know, it needs regular input to hold readers and I couldn’t pull that off, so now my occasional articles at Breakpoint.org (nothing very recent but you can search there for past articles). Soul of the Dark Knight, of course. Googling my name will bring up quite a bit of past work.

Soul of the Dark Knight: Batman as Mythic Figure in Comics and Film is available in Paperback and Kindle format at Amazon.com.

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Nav KNav: You can find me on Twitter @Nav_Kay and my Superhero / Comic Book blog at Girl on Comic Book World https://girloncomicbookworld.wordpress.com/
Check out these sensational in depth articles by Nav at her Girl on ComicBookWorld Blog:

Batman Character Analysis: He ain’t crazy but he is complex
Joker the Absurdist: A character analysis
Superman Character Analysis: More than just a guy who punches things
Batman Day: Why is Batman so popular?
Superhero Movies: What makes a great comic book villain?

girloncomicbookworld NAV K

Mark D White profile 150Mark:My website is at http://www.profmdwhite.com where you can find information about my books, articles, and what I’m working on now. I’m also on Twitter as @profmdwhite. I’m currently working on final production details on two books coming out next year: a popular book on the ethical judgment and behavior on display in Marvel Comics’ “Civil War” storyline, and an edited scholarly volume on economics and virtue ethics. [Modest Mark has also written Philosophy books on Green Lantern, Avengers, Watchmen, as well as traditional academic works, check out his Amazon author page link below]

The Virtues of Captain America: Modern-Day Lessons on Character from a World War II Superhero

Batman and Philosophy: The Dark Knight of the Soul

Superman and Philosophy: What Would the Man of Steel Do

Mark D White’s Amazon Author Page

mark d white cap bat superman philosophy

I highly recommend Alex’s Soul of the Dark Knight book, Mark’s Batman and Philosophy, The Virtues of Captain America – all of which are excellent reading. I also recommend Nav K’s awe-inspiring Comic Book blog, I read it every week and I encourage you do the same.

These three experts on Heroism and and what I call “Hero Theory” have helped me expand my ideas of Heroes, and I am frequently inspired by these three Super-Awesome writers in my own work and life in general.

All that remains is to say a Super big THANK YOU to – Alex, Nav and Mark for taking the time to tell us your thoughts on heroes and superheroes.

This article is part of a series on Heroes and Heroines, I’ve got several more features that will be up soon, so face front true believers and stay tuned for more exciting talk about Heroes and Heroines. And be sure to check out each the works of each of these experts on Heroism.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have some more BAT-reading and pondering to do in my man-cave.

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Batman – The Greatest Fictional Character of All Time

Batman’s Love Affair with Physical Pain – The Benefits of Pain

Batman beating up goons in alley

For Batman pain is an old friend.

A constant reminder of his physical limitations.

Pain is direct feedback from his immediate environment about what his body can and can not do.

Batman has the presence of mind to be aware of pain, while not being overwhelmed by his physical pain sensations.

The suffering that comes with physical pain Batman transcends by refusing to let the signals of physical pain overwhelm his consciousness. He refuses to let his mind and judgement be clouded by physical pain.

He still feels every bit of the pain, but he does not let that physical signal that travels along his nervous system into his brain turn into mental/psychological suffering because he does not mistake the experience he is having (pain) for who he is (Batman).

Batman accepts that physical pain and injuries are part of his mission. He is not bothered by injuries, other than that they slow him down or prevent him from completing a task.

In one way of looking at Batman’s behavior, Batman abuses his body by pushing it too hard. Another way of looking at his behavior is that Batman refuses to let physical limitations prevent him from accomplishing a task in his war on crime.

Of course there are limits even to what Batman can endure and some types of pain and injury will cause immediate dysfunction and render Batman incapable of doing anything other than calling for help or retreating to heal before coming up with a new plan, tactic or strategy.

We too should know the Bat-Wisdom of when to ask for help, when to retreat, and when to heal and recover.

There are times in life to listen to the signal of pain, and back off from what we are doing – like at the gym or during sport – if we experience an injury, the smart thing is to stop what we are doing, rest, get treatment and use active recovery.

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But then there are times when we must push past pain signals and ignore what our body is telling us. We must act in SPITE of pain. We must not let our body run our mind.

We must choose without any external signals to know when to push past limits, and when to respect them. Either way requires a conscious intelligent decision, rather than blind reaction.

For example you wake up and your house is on fire. You children are asleep and you must get them out or they will die.

Your body is screaming at you from the pain of inhaling smoke fumes, you may get burnt during the process or injured by debris or tripping on objects. The door handle burns your hand when you touch it, but if you do not open it you will die.

If you fail to transcend pain, your kids will die.

These are the times to rule our body with an iron fist and ignore the signals to simply get out of the house and live.

The greater perceived potential pain of death and loss helps to us to look past the immediate physical pain and very real present danger.

These are the times to be like Batman, to transcend ordinary circumstances and find our inner hero who will preserve the life of his children and family at all costs, even if it means sacrificing his own.

While we may have to perform a heroic act perhaps once in a lifetime, Batman goes out night after night and does his job, he fulfills his calling to simply “Be Batman”.

Pushing past pain just to kick a ball harder, or lift a weight heavier serves no higher purpose. They are ultimately selfish goals.

It may feel subjectively great, even euphoric to break one of our own athletic records in the moment, but what is more valuable?

Beating some personal record, experiencing a moment of euphoria that may come at the cost of months of rehab after we abuse our bodies – or the saving of a human life?

We must know our own strengths and limitations in life, and we must equally know when to gently move through them gently and respectfully, and when to break down walls like Batman in the Batmobile busting through police blockades and barriers – not just because we can, but because it serves a higher purpose.

Batman leaping yellow glow batsymbol

Batman knows his priorities. He doesn’t doubt himself, or his mission.

He doesn’t care about setting athletic records or lifting a heavy weight for the sake of it.

Batman’s training is ALWAYS practical. That heavy weight lifted in the gym translates into lifting a heavy fallen beam during a fire that has pinned some poor soul to the ground, and will be dead in a matter of moments.

That gymnastic leap, tuck and roll means he can dive through a window, his cape, cowl and gloves protecting him from serious cuts from the glass.

Those brutal training scenarios where he deprives himself of food, water and yes, even oxygen means that Batman has mentally prepared himself for all eventualities, and has a plan for how to beat every impossible scenario he can conceive of. Batman has a rich mental bank of scenarios and escape plans for every type of situation.

While he plans and prepares, Batman must remain focused in the present moment. Ever alert to opportunity and new possibilities emerging that he had not yet anticipated.

While Batman is a master planner and strategist, he is also an expert at off the cuff spontaneous creative simple solutions to difficult problems. He is the MacGyver of the Superhero world. Batman is a master in the fine art of masculine improvisation.

Give Batman a box of matches, a watch and a toothpick with some gum, and he will escape from an impossible trap, build an airplane or defuse a nuclear bomb before he has even had breakfast all while he is bleeding to death with a concussion and a dislocated shoulder.

There’s still something about the character [Macgyver] that strongly resonates. And that resonance actually goes a lot deeper than pop culture; it in fact points to an universal archetype of manliness, and a trait of masculinity that has been valued and celebrated across times and cultures: improvisation. – Brett and Kate McKay / Artofmanliness.com

Whether doing the impossible, or making the extraordinary part of his daily routine, Batman applies personal excellence to all he does in life. He transcends pain not as a masochist, but because his job demands it. He can’t afford to fall to pieces going into a burning building to pull someone out any more than a real life fireman can.

Batman can’t afford to get sloppy and let his physical sensations and emotions overwhelm his decisions on the street any more than a real life cop can. Fear and hesitation in the field can mean death comes sooner than rather than later. However the right kind of fear also can keep us alive. It takes training to trust your instincts under high stress situations, and you know Batman has trained himself for exactly that.

While it is impossible to literally be Batman, we can all learn a little from Batman that we can apply in our daily lives. Batman did not turn into a Superhero, urban vigilante and Champion of Justice overnight – he got there through gradual slow training, making mistakes, experimenting with his own life. He made 1000’s of mistakes on his way to greatness. And he will make a 1000 more mistakes as he continues to evolve as a human being.

The Art of Batmanliness then involves not only transcending pain, but knowing your limits.

It means knowing when to push forward and break down barriers, and when to retreat and lick your wounds, growing stronger with each new stimulus, with each new piece of feedback that life gives you. And being like Batman also means that every time life knocks you on your ass you have the bravery to stand back up and fight on or retreat and replan your approach to your mission.

The man who gets knocked down and stays down beats himself.

The man who gets up no matter what is impossible to beat.

Which type will you be?

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Batman by Vranckx / DeviantArt

More kick ass art by Vranckx @ http://vranckx.deviantart.com/

Batman v Superman vs the JLA vs Captain America Civil War – Let’s Go to the Movies!

Batman_Superman_Wonder_Woman_Trinity Matt Wagner art

There is still around six months to go until the cinematic release of Batman v Superman, and already the hype machine has kicked into overdrive, and anticipation for the film from fans is at a fever pitch.

No matter where I look online, people are hungrily devouring even the slightest scrap of information about the film.

Ben Affleck rumoured to be on a set somewhere? A million hits.

Ben Affleck takes a dump! Two million hits.

Ben Affleck with his shirt off while taking a dump on a movie set that POSSIBLY MIGHT be related to Batman?!!?

A BILLION GA-JILLION hits!

batman battfleck on toilet batman superman

Fans are also predicting which will be the bigger film at the box office…

Batman v Superman or Captain America: Civil War.

Normally it would be a no contest. BVS would be the clear winner at the box office.

batman v superman vs Civil War Captain America Marvel DC 2016

However…

We’ve already seen two Avengers movies, and two Captain America movies. Both of which made good money. Both films now have legions of fan salivating for more. But any way you look at it, it is more of the same.

Except the part where Civil War is about Marvel heroes fighting each other. We have not yet seen that as the main plot of a Marvel film.

Sure every Marvel film has arguments and petty squabbles, but we are talking about fundamental disagreements in core values here. Funnily enough, that is the core of both Civil War and Batman v Superman – philosophical differences that lead to the inevitable punch fest.

Batman v Superman by contrast to Marvel’s films so far is something we have not already seen (except for the Dark Knight Returns comic book of course).

Marvel so far has had a fantastic run of films and its cinematic universe has been a big success.

But BVS is not just about Batman and Superman, we have Wonder Woman as the third main character, and the film is the launching point not only for a new Batman film, but the long anticipated JLA film and the entire DC cinematic Universe.

BVS is the equivalent to Marvel’s Iron Man in that the launching point that DC / WB hopes to launch its cinematic connected universe from.

The difference is that nobody expected Iron Man to be so damn good. Iron Man was a real crowd pleaser that did well with fans, the critics and even your Mom and Dad. In contrast EVERYBODY expects BVS to do well. No, better than that. Some predictions say that BVS will out gross Marvel’s first Avengers flick.

The danger in so much hype, in so much anticipation and expectations for one single film (BVS) is that by the time the official JLA film rolls around, will the non-geek crowd care? Even your grandmother has heard of Batman and Superman,
but how many non comic readers know who the Justice League are? Iron Man was fortunate to not suffer from too many expectations. Hell I didn’t even like Iron Man before Robert Downey steeped into that goofy metal suit.

JLA is a tough sell despite featuring so many iconic DC characters. But the Avengers were not that well
known before Marvel’s film to the general public.

While Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman have been around since the 1940’s, Marvel’s Avengers (and the JLA) have only been around since the 1960’s.

Brave and Bold 28 JLA first appearance

The JLA first appeared in The Brave and the Bold #28 (1960). They are as old as the Avengers, but other
than Flash and Green Lantern, the rest of the JLA is a tough sell to the modern public. Batman and Superman get their own movie, and we all know who they are anyway. The challenge is selling every JLA member who is not Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman. Green Lantern had a crap film, while Flash is on to his second live action TV show in the last 30 years.

incredible hulk tv show thor stan lee daredevil marvel

Avengers had public name recognition for Hulk and Thor, both of whom have been on Hulk television several decades ago, along with Daredevil. Although most people won’t remember or be aware of Thor and Daredevil being part of the Hulk TV show and TV movie.

Captain America has featured in previous movies (laughably bad movies at that) and ancient serials, before the modern Marvel films with Chris Evans arrived on the scene.

Captain America movie serial
“HAVE AT THEE YOU RAPSCALLION!”

The Justice League by contrast are still relatively unknown. The JLA may have featured in numerous cartoons and animated movies, and be mega-superstars to comic fans old and new – but most non-comic reading adults have still never heard of them.

There is no “live action” mainstream TV precedent for the JLA like we had with the Lou Ferrigno Hulk, the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman or the George Reeves Superman. There have been numerous DC JLA cartoons, but mostly only kids watch them, non-comic reading adults don’t know a whole lot about them other than seeing action figures at the toy store etc.

The Justice League of America (or more often just “Justice League”) had predecessors in the superhero team of the JSA.

The Justice Society of America are DC Golden Age Royalty. You had Wonder Woman, the original Green Lantern (Alan Scott) the original Flash (Jay Garrick), there was Wildcat, Hourman, Sandman, Black Canary, Atom, Doctor Mid-Nite, The Spectre, Hawkman, Dr. Fate and more. These characters formed DC’s first premier super-team.

Later versions of some of these JSA characters would go on to be in various incarnations of the Justice League such as Hawkman and Wonder Woman. While the JSA were mostly forgotten for a number of years, they made a come back in the modern era thanks to fan favourite uber-writer Geoff Johns (known for his fantastic Green Lantern run, among other things).

If the JLA movie is a hit, we may yet see a Justice Society film, it only makes sense. Whether it would be it’s own brand, or simply have more of the JSA characters incorporated into the JLA #2 and JLA#3 is anybodies guess.

Justice_Society_of_America_group pic expanded roster
Sadly more people want to see more of “Full House” than the JSA.

The JLA as a film I.P. have been in development hell for around 20 years, and now finally they have passed “GO”. They pulled a “get out of jail free” card from their collective asses, the actors are lined up to star in the JLA and spin-off films.

However we have yet to see whether JLA will truly be DC’s cinematic equivalent of the Avengers at the box office in dollars and cultural impact, and whether the general public connect with the characters like they did with Marvel’s family of characters.

Marvel has its “grand vision” and plays their movies more for fun, while DC has the “we’re super serious so don’t fuck with us” attitude and grim tone that Nolan and Snyder have established.

Avengers as a film does not pretend to be art or cinema, it just promises you a fun day out at the movies on a Saturday. DC films want to be taken seriously as “cinema” something the buying public does not give two shakes of a dead sidekick about.

Justice League 1 NEW 52 Geoff Johns Jim Lee
We’re on the road to nowhere (…come on inside)

It makes sense for the next Batman Battfleck film and Batman v Superman to be grim films, as it suits the character of Batman.

But what will the tone of the JLA film be?

Will it super serious and relentlessly grim, all flash and style, but little substance? Will it be another pseudo-existentialist film as Man of Steel attempted, but ultimately failed to be?

If there are two lessons that the DC can learn from Marvel (or that WB studios can learn from Marvel Studios) they are:

1: Create an awesome shared universe that people love and want to talk about, that you can launch other I.P from.
2: Have fun along the way.

Avengers_Vol_1_1
AVENGERS = F.U.N.

I go to the movies to have fun, not to be depressed.

So while I am super-eyes-bulging-out-of-my-head-psyched for Batman v Superman next year, I hope that DC / WB does not make all their films the same tone, I feel that would be a big mistake.

I look forward to the first DC superhero comedy down the line.

Maybe it will be Plastic Man or Justice League International era Booster Gold and Blue Beetle in an 80’s set movie.

How good would that be? I don’t even LIKE those characters. But in the right hands it would could be a fun day out at the movies. Give it to Edgar Wright or another director/writer who can write hilarious dialogue.

My favourite version of Justice League International also sometimes had Batman as their leader. JLI was a laugh out loud funny comic that was closer in tone Marvel’s Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy movies and it would make a FANTASTIC film if you ask me.

I hope the JLA movies do gangbusters at the box office, and I hope we see many more DCU live action films of exceptional high quality, that spin-off the likely success of JLA and BVS.

But please don’t let them ALL be super serious and grim!

**This is my 50th post here on this “Batfan on Batman” Batman Blog which has been around for over a year now  – so take a second to put your hands in the air like you just don’t care!**

Justice-League.v1.1 giffen DeMatties
Yes… Yes I do you loser Guy Gardner, I can’t wait till that bit where Batman punchess in your smug face….. it’s coming soon.

5 Embarrassingly Bad Batman Habits That Had to Go

We all have bad habits.

Things we want to keep in the past and would rather our friends not know about us.

But Batman is better than us, right? He’s a master of martial arts, criminology, a a world class detective and apparently a real jack-ass.

It’s time to rifle through Batman’s dirty laundry and shake some skeletons out of the closet and see what turns up.

Here is a list of the Dark Knight’s embarrassingly bad habits, some of which he has managed to beat.

Let’s count down 5 of Batman’s most ill-advised habits, and I’m sure you can suggest a few Bad Batman Habits in the comments.

#5 BATMAN’S CHAIN SMOKING HABIT

In the modern comics Batman is in tip top shape. But it was not always that way. In his earliest appearances he was constantly smoking a tobacco pipe, fitting in time to solve murder cases when we was bored, nor too busy smoking.

Bruce Wayne Smokes a pipe
Smokey Wayne is on the Case!

Batman / Bruce Wayne loved a good puff back in the day.

Sometimes when he was not busy smoking he would even consider solving a case or two. Because he had “nothing else to do”.

“A murder, how frightfully boring!”

#4 BATMAN USES GUNS

It is no secret that Batman used guns in his first year as a masked dual identity avenger. But that was swiftly changed when the DC staff realized how much kids loved batman – they did away with the guns. Modern Batman has also used guns sometimes, usually getting retconned away at the blink of a batarang.

Batman using guns

I love the scene where Batman shoots at some explosives as a distraction.

“Well here goes. I hope I don’t get blown up.”

Way to use your that brain of yours Batman. IDIOT!

#3 BATMAN KEEPS KILLING PEOPLE

The cavalier attitude of Batman in his first year as the Dark Knight Detective resulted in significant incidental deaths. Knocking people out of high rise window, off platforms in chemical factories, swinging into a dudes neck with his foot resulting in a broken neck, not to mention hanging one of Hugo Strange’s Monster Men in Batman#1.

Batman kills people
“Sorry about that old chum!”

In Detective Comics #27 Batman shoves a man over a railing into an acid tank.

In Detective Comics #30 Batman swings toward a bad guy with his head out a window, his foot directly colliding with the unfortunate mans neck. A sickening *snap* highlights the Batman’s brutal treatment of this criminal.

If you thought that was bad, it gets worse. In the back up story in Batman #1 (the same issue where Robin debuts) Batman hangs one of Hugo Strange’s Monster Men.

The Hanging Avenger
The Hanging Avenger

On the previous page he fires a mounted machine gun at the bad guys van, commenting

“Much as I hate to take human life, I’m afraid this time it’s necessary!”

Whoops, butterfingers

If you thought that Batman executing a criminal was bad, it gets worse…

In Detective Comics #39, Batman pushes a giant idol onto a whole mess of bad guys with no remorse, and no good for reason for doing it in the first place.

Unlike in the  video games, these guys are not just resting their eyes for a really long time.

Batman expresses his disapproval of all the night rave party
Batman expresses his disapproval of all the night rave party

#2 BATMAN IS A DRUG ADDICT

In Legends of the Dark Knight #16-20 Batman gets hooked on the super steroid drug Venom (the same drug that villain Bane would take years later).

After failing to save the life of a young girl trapped underwater by a giant boulder, Batman is convinced he needs to get stronger. Failing to surpass his limits in weight lifting, he turns to a new designer drug from a madman chemist who is out to build his own mindless insane Super Soldiers, and he wants to recruit Batman. (Yeah he’s also the villain SHERLOCK, way to use that Bat-Brain of yours again World’s Best Detective!)

The Dark Knight eventually triumphs, but not before becoming a deranged addict, sending Alfred packing and refusing to read the newspaper.

“You got what I need fella”

            Batman goes to his dealer and also disrespects Alfred. I have not included the panel where he beats                 up a young kid and threatens to rips his head off. No, I’m not joking.

Bruce disrespects his main man Al

An overly aggressive and out of balance Bruce sends his trusty Butler and friend Alfred packing

Legends of the Dark Knight #18,1991 has the infamous cover of a strung out Bruce Wayne. In this issue he comes to his senses and has Alfred lock him in the Batcave for a month in a self-imposed detox.

Somebody needs a bath

And in the next issue after Batman kicks his habit he fights a shark on one of my favourite Batman covers of all time.

Proving to kids that they don’t need drugs to fight crime or beat up innocent sea creatures!

Batman jumps the shark
Batman jumps the shark
Okay, some of that stuff was a little bit crazy, but now it’s time to get nuts…

THEN LET'S GET NUTS!!
THEN LET’S GET NUTS!!

#1 BATMAN IS BATBALLS CRAZY

In World Finest Comics #153, 1965 Batman becomes convinced that Superman killed his father, slaps Robin for DARING to question his insane crusade to get Superman, and teams up with Lex Luthor (after revealing he is secretly Bruce Wayne/Batman) to finally take down Superman.

Sounds CRAZY?

Well it was.

The story was part of DC’s line of “Imaginary Stories”. Whatever the hell that meant. Stories that were made up for comic books that never really happened. You know, like every comic book story ever.

World's Finest#153 spawned one of the most well known Batman internet memes
World’s Finest#153 spawned one of the most well known Batman internet memes

Wait a minute, are not ALL comic books stories made up stories?

Who can say what really happened, what was an imaginary story, hallucination or dream sequence? The writers? The readers? Does anyone really care?

It’s a pointless discussion, as all superhero comics are imaginary stories. But fans actually argue about this kind of nonsense all the time in internet forums, podcasts etc. I’ve never done it… as far as you know.

Anyway, take a look at the images for yourself and see how crazy Batman was in this story.

For my next crime, vandalism of a public figure

Batman is convinced Superman killed his dad! He must get revenge, but not before he vandalizes a giant picture of Superman – the fiend!

Why he bothered to get a near life sized portrait of Superman to scratch up with a knife when he could have been busy getting revenge on his friend I don’t know. But Bruce Wayne is crazy and has loads of money, so he’ll probably write it off come tax time.

Time for a little Bat-Brain-washing old chum
Time for a little Bat-Brain-washing old chum

While it is highly unlikely Batman will use any of the bizarre tactics from World’s Finest #153 in Batman V Superman, the idea that he just might makes me laugh.

“I’ll end Superman’s career forever”

Yells an angry Batman to a picture of his parents on the wall.

Yeah, yelling at pictures will get the job done Bats, you nutcase!

Then Batman *slaps* Robin for daring to question his totally bonkers ideas about Superman.

Of course then he hypnotizes Robin (*cough* brain washes) to make him forget their conversation before dashing off like a lunatic to shoot Superman with an air rifle on the next page.

Remember, Batman was NOT on drugs in this story kids, that was a different story.

Help a Superfriend out Brother!
Help a Superfriend out Brother!

Batman puts his sniper skills to the test, tagging Superman with a radioactive tracer round.

It was probably just super-gas from the ass!
It was probably just super-gas from the super ass!
Superman picks up an odd sound, but otherwise has no idea that his best friend just fired a rifle at him. Some friend Batman is!

Later in the story, Batman knocks out Superman with a Kryptonite Batarang, (as you do for good friends) putting a quick end to the former World’s Finest team. It’s dopey but still kind of cool.

Superman tangles with the disgusting snot encrusted Batarang
Superman tangles with the disgusting snot encrusted Batarang

During the story Batman reveals his secret identity to Luthor, and teams up with him. The story ends with Batman accidentally finding out (through not using his famous detective skills whatsoever) that Lex Luthor was the one who really killed his father. DOH!

Somebody get that Snot-arang off poor Superman before I throw up
Somebody get that Snot-arang off poor Superman before I throw up
The Worlds Greatest Jack-Ass triumphs again.
WHOOPS! Sorry about that old chum. 
“I’ve taken you down with my Kryptonite Batarang and now now I must confess my secret identity to your worst enemy, who is now my new best friend”.
I hope you had as much fun reading this post as I did writing it, it took me ages as I could not stop laughing at some of these crazy panels.

So what bad habits do you feel Batman needs to give up? I look forward to reading your comments.

Superman, John Wayne and Apple Pie

A hero at best can only reflect our cultural values.

A hero reflects the way we want to see ourselves.

Or how we imagine the best version of ourselves to be.

A hero represents our collective dreams and imagination.  Heroes are wish fulfillment fantasies while also being ciphers for projecting the best version of ourselves into the future.

The hero archetype occurs in diverse cultures around the world.

America is home to (and the innovator of) two unique versions of the hero archetype – the silver screen Cowboy and the comic book Superhero.

superman pie 1

I love Western films and I can’t get enough of Superhero comic books, so let’s talk a little about heroic archetypes, in this case the definitive Cowboy and the Superhero – Superman and John Wayne.

A hero can choose their actions and live their values, but can only be truly called a hero by an observer.  To call oneself a hero means basically nothing, it is more a label other people apply to the hero.  The hero simply is.

Modern fictional heroes tend to lean more towards pacifism than historical heroes.  But we have no shortage of the soldier/killer hero type of character.  Old time Greek heroes from myths and legends thought nothing of killing monsters or their fellow man in the name of their quest, or if the Gods asked them in return for special favors.Modern heroes like Superman resort to violence as a last resort, and try to avoid killing any living thing unless absolutely necessary.

To some people this non-violence is the evolution of the hero archetype in alignment with modern human values, to other people not killing a clear and present threat is just naive.  There is no right or wrong answer here, merely differences of opinion and cultural values.

The shadow side of a hero becomes an imperialist, conqueror or being of power who imposes his (or her) will on another, regardless of circumstance.  The hero in shadow becomes a self-righteous person unable to stop being the hero, and who is not really a person concerned with serving the genuine needs of others, but with serving their own needs, and enforcing their will on others as they believe they are morally right to do so.  The hero as villain may become a benevolent dictator or world conqueror / self appointed ruler.

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Superman is the definitive Superhero.  He’s a little old fashioned, he sticks up for the little guy and he visits his parents perhaps a little too often.  He believes in looking after each other, and he believes in America.

He’s the big blue boy scout, the angel on your shoulder that tells you to avoid doing bad deeds, America’s conscience.

He’s the guy who blah blah blah blah and he……..ZZZZZZZ…..

……..SORRY!  I fell asleep there for a moment.

So yeah Superman is a little vanilla, a little boring.  At least according to some people.  I get it, Superman is not what you would call edgy or cool or extreme like Batman.

Classic golden age superman

But frankly I love Superman.  I’ve been reading a a fair amount of classic and modern Superman stories lately, and the more I read the more I love the character.  While Batman is my favourite literary character, I can’t think of him without thinking of Superman, they are like Spiritual brothers, forever entwined.

Yes, it’s Superman–strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman–defender of law and order, champion of equal rights, valiant, courageous fighter against the forces of hate and prejudice, who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth and justice. – Adventures of Superman radio serial, 1940-1951 (thanks to the CBR Comic Book Legends Revealed column for the quote text)

Batman Superman yin yang

When I think of these semi-mythic timeless pop-cultural icons I am reminded of classical greek myths and legends.

The Avengers are an awesome team, but the JLA are like modern day Gods!

If Superman represents all that is good about America, then Batman is America’s dark underbelly, repressed feelings, ideas and values.  Batman is America’s Shadow self that it doesn’t want to acknowledge.  I think  Grant Morrison sums them up wonderfully in his Supergods book:

“Superman was of the day; Batman was of the night and the shadows. Superman was rational, Apollonian; Batman was Dionysian” writes Grant Morrison in Supergods. This fascinating new hero was horned like the Devil, and most at home in darkness; a terrifying, demonic presence who worked on the side of the angels. – Alex Wainer quoting Grant Morrison in Soul of the Dark Knight: Batman as Mythic Figure in Comics and Film

I tend to think of Superman like Helios and Apollo, Greek mythic figures associated with the sun.  Morrison refers to Superman as the “Sungod from Smallville” – after all, Superman is a living solar battery.  The more solar energy he stores, the stronger and healthier he is, and the less solar radiation he has stored the weaker he gets.  Take away the yellow sun and Superman’s powers fade away until he becomes basically mortal and human.

superman frank quitely sun all star superman1 grant morrison
“All Star Superman” by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

Superman’s values may be old fashioned but they still have relevance in today’s world.  In a healthy creative cycle somebody creates something – let’s say in this case the fictional character Superman.

The character becomes popular, and then that popularity declines.  Along with the decline in popularity (but not always) comes experimentation, irrelevance, revision, revamp, relaunch, deconstructionism, post modernism, and eventually a return to the original version via Holism.  What was old becomes new again, what was no longer in style comes back in style.  The classic version of a character re-emerges, now more fully defined, and thoroughly explored after going through the creative literary cycle.

From Superman’s humble origins as a champion of the underclasses, the poor, and the disenfranchised to a tool of wartime propaganda and later a corporate icon, to his evolution into a protector of the planet earth from threats both alien and terrestrial, Superman is as Seinfeld calls him “the guy”.

superman seinfeld 1

Superman is the original, the best, the definition of what a Superhero is, or could hope to be.

Despite his metamorphosis from modern day Moses and Samson into a sort of Space Jesus – Superman is still “the guy”. He’s the gold standard all other superheroes are compared to.  He is the living inspiration to generations of fictional heroes in the DC Universe, and he’s an inspiration to a few of us here in the real world too.  He may be old fashioned like your Grandfather – but he’s also loving, kind, and lives to serve others.

One of my all time favourite Superman stories that best represents Superman’s values and what he stands for is the tabloid sized Peace on Earth story by Paul Dini and Alex Ross.  Superman: Peace on Earth is a great snap shot of the values that Superman embodies, while also showing the limitations of the Sungod from Smallville.

Superman_Peace_On_Earth_COVER Alex Ross Paul Dini

The painted  photo-realistic art by Alex Ross in Peace of Earth is based on human models.  The base model Ross transforms into a fictional character, with accurate anatomy and lighting that bring his stories to glorious life.

Peace on Earth deals with some possible real world ramifications to Superman forcing change on human beings.  Despite the realist art style, the book still feels like a mythic tale of a near immortal sun god who walks among us, and painfully realises despite his immense power he has some very human limitations.

What Superman comes to realise is that you can help people all you like, but ultimately they have to want to help themselves.  People have to want to learn and act on that choice themselves, otherwise your efforts can just make people dependent on your “help”, and will perhaps do nothing to evolve in their own way.  This kind of help can even set humanity back by making them dependent on a savior figure, instead of choosing to evolve and think for themselves.

Superman: “I can only tell you what I believe, Diana. humankind has to be allowed to climb to its own destiny. We can’t carry them there.”
Flash: “But that’s what she’s saying. What’s the point? Why should they need us at all?”
Superman: “To catch them if they fall.”

-JLA #4

Superman_Peace_On_Earth CROPPED

The welfare of Earth and all its people will always be my primary concern. But if there is a solution of hunger, it must be one that comes from the compassionate heart of man and extends outward toward his fellow man. There’s an old saying: ‘Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime.’ That simple message asks humankind to nurture with knowledge, to reach out to those in need and inspire others to do the same. That is life’s greatest necessity and its most precious gift. – Superman : Peace on Earth

Okay we will come back to Superman later, but now let’s talk about John Wayne, the all American cowboy hero.  John Wayne was an actor, the most famous screen cowboy that ever was, and in many ways, John Wayne IS America.

Or at least he was.

John Wayne stood for the old guard of America, or more specifically pre-Vietnam and pre-civil rights America where the American dream rapidly became the American nightmare.  There were cowboys before John Wayne, but during his reign as a Hollywood leading man, John Wayne became the definitive film cowboy, he defined the cowboy archetype and any cowboys who rode the dusty trails in his wake are forever eclipsed by The Duke.

While John Wayne had some controversial, perhaps backwards and conservative views, even his critics admit that he was one hell of a man, who almost never said a bad word (at least publicly) about anyone.  Despite his unpopular views during the rapidly changing culture of the post World War II years, and the death of the Western as a film genre in the modern era, John Wayne remains a much loved figure of film culture and Americana.

Wayne’s on screen characters were consistently men of good moral character, who stood up to bullies and outlaws.  Wayne had a no nonsense way of speaking his mind both on and off the silver screen.  John Wayne was a man’s man.  He was big, strong, kind and he spoke his mind.  One of his most well known movie maxims “A man’s got to do, what a man’s got to do”.

John Wanye portrait by Doctor_Pencil_Deviant_Art
‘The Duke’ by Doctor-Pencil / DeviantArt

Wayne’s on screen persona was one of quiet dignity, strength and good moral character.  While off screen he spent most of his time involved in the production of his next project, away from his family, and he never went to war.

He was the only person I could think of at the time who could personify great strength and determination without talking much.  That sounds easy, perhaps. But it’s not.  Either you have it or you don’t.

-John Ford on casting Wayne in Stagecoach

Some of Wayne’s critics felt that John Wayne was a hypocrite for appearing in jingoistic war films, while not going to war himself.  At the time, many leading men in Hollywood did go to war.  Men such as Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable and Lee Marvin.  Some critics would say there was a  disconnect from Wayne’s on screen persona to who he actually was.  Despite this seeming hypocrisy, Wayne was still considered a hero by soldiers and civilians alike.

With other leading men away during the war, Wayne had very little competition for lead roles.  His career had earlier bombed when he first had the opportunity to be a leading man in The Big Trail (1930), only to be sent back to B-Westerns for the better part of a decade.  Had John Wayne gone to war, it likely would have been the death of his career, if not his actual death.  Wayne would most likely be remembered as just another struggling actor in B Westerns, or more than likely not remembered at all.  Wayne forged an enduring partnership and friendship with director John Ford.  Ford believed in John Wayne and insisted on casting him in Stagecoach (1939), the film that made John Wayne’s career.

John Wayne Stagecoach1
John Wayne in Stagecoach (1939)

Whatever went on off screen, it seemed that John Wayne was fated to become one of America’s most beloved leading men.  Personally I feel glad that he never went to war to potentially die a pointless death, as his on screen persona would go on to define the role of the American Cowboy hero for decades.  You could say John Wayne had a destiny to be exactly who he intended to be in this life, and nothing in this world was going to change that.

While the Cowboy archetype in the negative aspect is one of potential oppression of the Native American people by Colonials, the Cowboy myth in the positive aspect also stands for determination, self-reliance, hard work, honesty and integrity.  In short the mythic Cowboy film archetype is also a symbol of the rugged individualism, “can do” attitude and self-determination of America, and is tied to the birth of the American dream.

john wayne and ron howad in the Shootist Waynes final movie
Ron Howard and John Wayne in his final film ‘The Shootist’ (1976)

I feel we can all learn a little something from John Wayne, as a on screen example of heroism and determination in the face of adversity, an example of a man of moral character and strong values.  Wayne was human of course, and he had his flaws as all of us do.

Whether ranch hand, settler, farmer, bounty hunter or sheriff, the Cowboy archetype has many facets and permutations.  The Cowboy as sheriff or Lawman becomes the modern day urban cop.  Industrious settlers became captains of industry.  The farmer Cowboy fulfills the typical american dream of marriage, children, property and prosperity born of hard industrious labor and a “can do” attitude.

Modern cowboys still exist in certain parts of America of course, and the general attitude of “Cowboy” is one that America is often labelled with as a whole in a derogatory sense, particularly in reference to America’s never ending invasions and wars in third world countries.

The cowboy archetype never truly died and is alive and well in some modern fictional characters such as Pete Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones) in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) in Justified, and Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) in Longmire.

John Wayne Mug1 Even John Wayne’s critics had a hard time when they met him in person, finding him an opinionated, strong, likable, intelligent, charismatic and reasonable man.

What John Wayne stands for today, is the archetype of the rugged individual, the man’s man.  This classical male archetype that has all but disappeared from our cinema screens in recent decades with the rise of the “sensitive” man and the metrosexual dilution of typically old world male values in mainstream cinema culture.

image_741 (1)

From the 1960s-2000 we have seen the death of the manly moral Cowboy hero, and the rise of the anti-hero, the amoral bloodthirsty action hero, and the new age metrosexual hero such as Neo in The Matrix (a thin loner computer nerd who becomes an enlightened Superman figure).  We’ve seen our heroes and manly men deconstructed, pulled apart, vilified, called redundant, sexist and old-fashioned. Even James Bond was not immune to the rise of culture clash, and changing gender roles at home and in the workplace.

While films like the James Bond series attempted to remain socially relevant by aping changes in cultural values, instead the films merely adopted a horrendously bad politically correct style that left Bond effectively castrated, a shell of his former self.  Not until the reinvention of Bond as Daniel Craig in Casino Royale (2006) did Bond get his balls and machismo back.

Post year 2000 we have seen the rise of the comic book superhero film, and not so much a return to the old fashioned potentially racist, sexist misogynist Cowboy heroism, as a further evolution and re invigoration of the hero and heroine archetype.  Moral heroes likes Captain America and Superman are back on the big screen where they belong, and what was once old is new again.  Thankfully a stand alone Wonder Woman film is finally making its way to the big screen, 70+ years overdue, the tireless icon of the super-heroine, the adopted feminist icon and all around amazing Goddess will hopefully get the cinematic treatment she deserves, standing as a rightful equal next to the JLA in “mans’ world”.

Superman Man of Steel Henry Cavill Captain America First Avenger Chris Evans Wonder Woman_1

Old fashioned hero vales may be synonymous with bigotry, but they need not be.  We can enjoy heroes without them being sexist killers, racists and colonials.  Male heroes can have charisma, charm, balls and machismo, without being cookie sexist stereotypes who put women down.  Female heroines can be empowered strong Women in their own right, without just being a reaction to male heroes, or serving as convenient plot devices.

The superhero archetype may have been born in a patriarchal world, but there is no reason for superheroes to remain tethered to outdated and irrelevant paradigms.

 A hero or heroine need not be anything other than what they choose to be.

The power of the hero and superhero archetype is not locked into the past, but remains progressive and ever-expanding.  A hero need not be implicitly be a killer, enforcer of empire, or the “might makes right” attitude.

Many classical and contemporary heroes have been exactly that.  But the further evolution of the hero and superhero archetype is not dependent on reinforcing limiting cultural values of the oppression of any individual or group.  The hero and heroine archetype does not have to continue to be one of sexism, violence and death, it has far more potential as an archetype of higher values, compassion, co-operation and service to humanity.
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With popular comic book heroes we get our puritan moral characters such as Superman and Captain America, our dark, cynical and conflicted characters such as Wolverine, Batman and The Punisher, alongside more middle of the road moral characters such as Spider-Man, and monsters such as the half-human/vampire Blade and the genetic atomic monster The Incredible Hulk.  The hero-ism and moral values of these characters varies, each can be said to emphasise a different aspect of the human psyche, allowing for playful healthy expression of our higher values and darker desires in safe context.

The over dominance of male-centric hero characters and plots reflects an unbalanced patriarchal society while simultaneously showing our fear of embracing the feminine aspects of our psyche, both in men and women.

Superhero cinema embraces and draws upon all other genres at its leisure.  Action movies, horror, science fiction, drama, fantasy, existentialism, comedy, western.  Any and all filmic tropes are up for grabs.  The Wild Bunch or The Dirty Dozen can become the Suicide Squad.  The Magnificent Seven or Ocean’s 11 can become The Avengers.

Suicide Squad Dirty Dozen

The further evolution and integration of basic human values in Superhero Cinema is up to the new generation of writers and film makers.  Will they continue down the outmoded path of sexist colonial male heroes with women sidelined as femme fatales, kung-fu divas and other ridiculous stereotypes?  Or perhaps dare to evolve themselves and their world by writing strong independent female heroines?  In my opinion we need more Joss Whedon’s and Angelina Jolie’s in the world.  We need to hear the authentic voice of the feminine at all levels of society, particularly in superhero cinema.

Getting back to Superman (you didn’t seriously think I was done did you?) – Superman’s story is the ultimate immigrant story.  As a character he is timeless and universal.  While born on Krypton and adopted by Ma an Pa Kent on Earth, Superman is truly a citizen of the world, an advocate along with Wonder Woman for world peace, and a tireless champion of Justice, Freedom and Truth.

The famous phrase “Truth, Justice and the American Way” was not part of the original incarnation of Superman, the “American Way” part was added later during World War Two, most famously it was adopted by the George Reeves Superman TV show, and then became part of Superman lore.

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Truth, Justice and… Insurance? [Image courtesy of SupermanHomepage.com]
Truth and Justice can be said to be ideals that can apply in any nation, but “The American Way” makes Superman into an imperialist, an enforcer of American culture and values.  Fans and some writers would argue he has outgrown that status, and has become more like modern world mythology.  Superman today then belongs not only to America, but to the world. The character even renounced his US Citizenship in Action Comics #900, however it is unknown whether that story by David S. Goyer was canon, or merely a one off experiment.

As a non-American, I agree with the decision of Superman. He is more than an American. He is a symbol of peace, justice and humanity. He is no more the puppet toy of one country.

-An anonymous internet fan on ‪‎Superman renouncing his US Citizenship in Action Comics #900

Revisionist and post-modern Superhero stories such as Watchmen, Miracle Man, Dark Knight Returns, Superman: Red Son, The Authority and Irredeemable show the potential negative side of the Superman archetype.  These stories show a Superman figure as a potential tool of empire, as an iron fisted tyrant, an otherworldly alien threat (the eternal outsider or “other” who threatens the status quo), and as an mentally ill evil alien God of near limitless power.

Superman Red Son Iredeemable The Authority

While these stories are entertaining and brilliant in their own right, their place in the canon of Superhero stories is part of a larger cycle.  Creation, Innovation, Experimentation, Deconstructionism, Post-Modernism and eventual metamorphosis back to Holism (the reintegration of the various deconstructed story parts and themes that often resembles the very first version of character) means that even stories not about Superman, ultimately help to define who and what Superman IS, by showing us what he is NOT.

In a similar fashion, the Batman “Knightfall” story gave the world a Batman it did not want, and clearly demonstrated that Batman (as an idea) was not broken, and was not in need of fixing.  Similarly, Superman is not “broken” or irrelevant.  The Man of Steel’s stories are as strong and relevant as the authors ability to write engaging fiction.

Superman stories are as emotionally resonant and deeply meaningful as a writer allows them to be.

The values Superman stands for are not just old fashioned and irrelevant so much as timeless and subject to innovation that ultimately brings the character full circle back to his earliest incarnation. Superman (and Batman) can withstand endless revisionism and retconning because they are such strong well defined characters to begin with, yet with room to project something of ourselves onto the characters so that we can also relate to them.

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One writer who has struck a chord with modern fans is Jeph Loeb.  Loeb has been a writer for the big and little screens, and comic books for several decades.  Jeph Loeb knows characterisation and plot like the back of his hand.  More than that, he knows how to reinvent a character for a new audience, or reinterpret a character to bring them back in line with their core values that were present all along.  What was old and boring becomes fresh and new again in the hands of a talented writer such as Jeph Loeb.

Superman For All Seasons Jeph Loeb Tim Sale
Fan Favourite “Superman: For All Seasons” by Loeb and Sale

The earliest version of Superman was a man of the people, and for the people.  While modern Superman battles crooks, super-criminals and space aliens on a weekly basis, he still rescues cats from trees, saves damsels in distress and helps out the common man and woman however he can.  Superman never truly ceased being a man of the people, he just took on more responsibility than anyone could rightly ever ask him to.  He transcended and included his earlier stories, he continues to be the champion and inspirational figure he always was and will be, while evolving beyond a simple minded moralistic crusader of Truth, Justice and the American Way.

Modern Superman is smart and capable.  While the sungod from Smallville walks among us, no less a man than a God, he is still flawed and deeply human.  He makes mistakes and questions his actions like any sane person would do.  Modern Superman is more complex, more intelligent, stronger and most importantly more human than his earliest incarnation.

Superman is in a sense the best of us, or one potential version of what we collectively imagine the best version of ourselves to be.  He is a man from Smallville, a farmer, a keen eyed reporter, and a living deity of near limitless power.  To some he is Hercules and Samson, to others he is baby Moses floating down the Nile river, to others he is a messianic Christ like figure who suffers for our ill-informed choices, and never complains as all he has for us is Love, tolerance and peace – no matter how badly we treat him.

superman 233 Neal Adams classic cover

Superman can take it, because now and forever, he is “the guy”.  The cloth, the mold from which all Superheroes are cut and defined.  The all American square jaw, the courage of his convictions, his kindness and generosity, his tireless service to his fellow man and calm demeanor are what define Superman and make him the person we aspire to be.  His humble upbringing on a farm in Smallville and very down to earth old fashioned parents inform who Superman is.  Superman is basically the most moral character ever created in Superhero fiction.

Superman sets the bar of human values and achievement high.  While we may never reach the same heights as the Sungod from Smallville who can lift mountains and see microscopic bacteria and macroscopic worlds and galaxies in outer space beyond our limited vision, he knows that we will try to do our best and he will be there to catch us when we fall.

Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! (“Look! Up in the sky!” “It’s a bird!” “It’s a plane!” “It’s Superman!”)… Yes, it’s Superman … strange visitor from another planet, who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men! Superman … who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way! And now, another exciting episode, in The Adventures of Superman! 

Superman_Peace_On_Earth BACK COVER

Dreams save us. Dreams lift us up and transform us. And on my soul, I swear…until my dream of a world where dignity, honor and justice becomes the reality we all share–I’ll never stop fighting. Ever. – Superman in Action Comics #775

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John Wayne was more than one of Hollywood’s most famous and most successful actors – he was, and still is, an icon and a symbol of American itself.  Wayne projected dignity, integrity, and strength in all his films, even when his characters were flawed.

– Scott Eyman, author of John Wayne: The Life and Legend

When I think of the best qualities of America, I think of a nation that has embraced immigrants and diversity, a nation of unlimited opportunity, a nation of freedom of expression, a nation free from the tyranny of Kings, Lords and Royal Families who considered themselves divinely appointed rulers and whose rule was absolute and unquestionable.

While those are all fine ideals, the dark underbelly of America is corruption at the highest levels eating the heart of America like a flesh eating virus that will eventually kill its host.

I am ashamed at the alarmingly high rate of incarcerated African Americans, the relentless irresponsible spending of the War Machine disguised as “Liberty”, and the propaganda that America has enemies it must fight, or foreign nations it must liberate.  I am ashamed that the once proud and free America has allowed itself to be taken over by greedy corporations and mega-banks who control much of the country, and have far more power, money and influence than the Government.

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War of Nations by Dustsplat / Deviantart

It is easy to hike up taxes when there is a war on, or some other fear inducing national crisis to be milked for all its worth. America is a strange nation that makes peace by dropping bombs and shooting bullets, but I question whether those actions are in the best interests of the American people.  Home of the brave and free, or home of the unintentionally enslaved?

I think of archaic horrendous policies like Rendition and turning back the clock on human and civil rights with Guantanomo Bay.  Sadly America has made itself a world leader that coerces other countries through trade agreements to “play ball” or else.

To see America as all shiny red and blue superheroes, rainbows and lollipops is to live in a dangerously delusional and naive fantasy world.  The worlds of American movies and fantasy paint a different story.  They tell us the story of how America used to be, or at least how America imagined itself to be at its best and how it wants to be seen on the world stage.  But that America does not exist any more, and you have to wonder at this point if it ever did.

By contrast seeing America as all cocaine cowboys, mercenaries, and corrupt governments run by shadow corporations is also only a partial truth.  The larger almost incomprehensible truth I suspect is somewhere in the middle, and of course I am using extreme examples to make a point.

Every country has its best self and its worst self.

What I like about American culture is the spirit of independence within the heart of Americans.  I love the “can do” attitude and the will to work to better themselves.

It pains me to see that spirit being undermined by a country being divided amongst itself, rather than united.  The endless “justified” wars and manufactured over inflated crises that keep people too poor and afraid to do anything to help themselves.  The rampant pollution and environmental devastation and corruption at every level that keeps people too sick, stuck in survival mode and afraid to really stand up to the corporate overlords as a collective of free thinking individuals.

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I love the values that Superman and John Wayne represent, and the America that exists in popular fiction.  But was that America ever real, did it ever exist, or was it merely an unrealised dream?  I have no idea.  The unparalleled prosperity America knew in the post World War II era was in part because the factories and exports of competing nations had been bombed to hell.  Once they recovered, life was not so sweet and easy for the average Joe and Jane.

A cynical view of Supes and the Duke sees them as conservative puppets of the establishment – but the values I identify with these two icons more than any other are those of hard work, self-reliance, self-confidence, courage and kindness.  But are those values rewarded in modern America or are people trying to get ahead in a rigged game?  Are people really enjoying the fruits of their labor, or are they finding that Government does whatever the hell it wants to do, no matter what opinions and choices the people voice.

What happens when you work hard to get ahead, live an honest life but then the Government decides to take your house away anyway in the name of “progress” and urban expansion?  What happens when people fight a war of independence, only to succumb to a virtual dictatorship or at best an Oligarchy from a shadow Government that publicly talks about making changes for the better, while privately locking up and torturing anyone they like without trial after publicly calling them a “terrorist” and throwing away the key?

john Wayne A mans got to do what a mans got to do

Is it because we collectively LET it happen through not standing up to the authorities who are supposed to represent the will of the people?  When did the servants become the masters? When did the officials elected to represent the American people decide to kick out the owners of the house, and change from servants into ego-driven dictators?  When did the American Dream turn into the American Nightmare?

I love what the Heart and Spirit of America stands for, but does that America still exist?

Despite all this, I believe that the Heart, Spirit and Soul of the American people is strong, and one day soon, big changes will take place.  The dinosaurs who dictate to the people of America are dying a slow, painful and long overdue death.

Their life support machines are failing, their life insurance policies will not be cashed, a new energy, a new blood is being born onto the planet who will be the final extinction of the “Greed is Good” mantra that has ruled America in recent decades.

Superman and John Wayne are icons and symbols of America itself.  In many ways they ARE America.  

They represent the best and worst of the nation. They represent freedom and independence, but they also represent the might makes right attitude.  To be a hero, you gotta make someone else into the villain, and America loves to invent new villains every week so they have someone to fight or liberate.

Their is a danger in the hero archetype that those who see themselves as heroes will enforce their will unquestioningly.  Hitler believed himself to be a hero for the German people.  He’s no hero in my book.  If he were alive and I met him today, I’d punch him in the face for sure no matter what the consequences. America loves to see itself as Cowboys and Superheroes on the world stage, but the danger in that view is that somebody has to become the villain, otherwise the hero just does not exist..  Somebody else has to be “wrong” to make America “right”, hence the constant invention of new enemies and perceived threats.

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However what I love about Superman and John Wayne is that they are both men of character and principle.  It’s easy to be soft and lazy, it’s easy to drop out, not care or be cynical.  It takes a tough and emotionally strong person to give a damn, to have the courage of their convictions, to not be swayed by the crowd of popular opinion.

The true test of ones convictions is when we stick to our principles during the hardest times in our lives.  

It is easy to have principles and values when there is nothing that challenges those values.  The true test of character is when we face struggle and opposition and we just keep on marching  forward, enduring the unendurable, being true to our word, our actions flowing from our principles without hesitation or second guessing.

The danger here of course is that we may be wrong.  Might does not make right in my view.

But right or wrong, our actions speak louder than words.  There is no greater coward than a person who refuses to engage with the world, or take any kind of action at all.  The man (or woman) who acts and is proven wrong still commands greater respect then the man who fails to act at all.  Having tried and failed, those who act have the choice to modify their actions, and learn from their mistakes.  Those too full of fear, doubt and the mental virus of self-loathing fail to act, and thus fail to learn or to truly live life in all of its complexity.

Having never risked anything, never gained, never lost, the person of inaction can be said never to have lived at all.

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Cowboys and Superheroes are more than anything, men of action.

Dynamic figures of bold confidence who command our attention and inspire with their acts of valor, heroism and bravery.  More than their physical achievements, they inspire by example, through being living examples of abstract principles, ideas and values.  John Wayne is America.  Superman is America.

We should emulate the archetypal hero’s core values if we want to better ourselves. We can enjoy heroes and heroines as entertainment, but we should not act out the violence of the Hero, Superhero and the Cowboy.  Let the fictional characters act out the violence we feel in our hearts so that we need not enact that violence in the real world.  To be like our heroes also means acknowledging and finding a healthy outlet for the darker aspects of our own nature, rather than repressing those impulses.

John Wayne creed Tomorrow

America for better or worse is a nation of achievers and people who take action.  Despite rampant corruption in business and government at the heart of America is a “CAN DO” attitude.  I can’t say the same about the UK, Australia and New Zealand.  If you succeed in America or dare to dream, people encourage you.  While in countries like my adopted homeland of Australia, people tend to shoot down your dreams and ask you to “be realistic”.  Basically code for “Be mediocre like me, go nowhere, do nothing, attempt nothing, be nothing“.

I’d like to see more people taking action from their heart of hearts, and not just thinking of short term goals, but what is good for us as individuals and as an intelligent evolving species on this planet.

What I love about America is that it embodies more than any other nation on the planet, the idea of:

I CAN AND I WILL, I DO AND I DARE

Superman and John Wayne are men of action, men of myth and legend.  Men of moral character, men who live their values in every breath and step they take and embody the kind of self-confidence, dignity and pride that can not be faked.

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And that is what I love about America, those eternal values that will never die in my view, no matter what corruption festers in the background undermining the hearts and souls of the honest hard working American people.

There is power in the hero and superhero archetype, but whatever power it holds is only what we give to it, and what we allow to manifest within ourselves as we live our lives, and live our core values.

Superman is not just an alien with extraordinary abilities, far above mortal men… he cares for us. He radiates decency and integrity, it’s not just the powers that makes him a great man, it is because he is Clark Kent. He, the All-American country boy from the Heartland. Clark Jerome Kent is too integral to the mythos and grandieur that is Superman. That rocket could have been choosen to have landed anywhere, at any time, even fleshed out for decades. Could it–would it have been the same? Perhaps, but I am thankful such curiosities are left to Elseworlds. The Kent’s wholesome upbringing they raised Kal-El with is what makes Superman a gentle being filled with warmth, kindness, and innocence. An adopted son of man and Earth with honest values and a big heart. 

-Josh Grayson / SupermanHomepage.com

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The Forces that Shape our Stories – Why We Crave Superheroes/Modern Mythology like Oxygen

What is true is that we humans cannot shrink the Universe or its God down to something we can see and understand.  We, to understand, must expand our ways of understanding to infinite and eternal expanses. -Bob Laughlin, Denver, USA

In the modern world our mythologies and legends have been deconstructed.

Our cultural stories have been torn apart, dismantled, analysed to death and seen through the eyes of post-modernism and a rational scientific mind.

Our religions, spiritual and wisdom traditions have been endlessly studied, analysed and pulled apart.

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A mythological dragon can  represent out own personal demons to battle, to triumph over.  The dragon can also represent the unintegrated aspects of ourselves that we have disowned or refuse to acknowledge.  A dragon may also represent the ‘other’ in physical terms, the ‘other’ may be perceived as threatening or benevolent.  Art by El Grimlock / DeviantArt

At the end of it all we have culturally dismissed most, if not all of it as irrelevant or at least the childish beliefs of primitive societies. While the inherent corruption and power of cult like societies that steal people’s money while keeping them stupid has diminished, we have also lost some important benefits along the way.

Few people in the modern world consider mysticism a genuine spiritual path, yet most if not all  religious founders had some sort of mystical experience of love and unity, the watering down of that experience then becomes all sorts of  nonsense beliefs and practices by people who don’t understand what was attempting to be communicated by the founder who had the direct experience of a higher reality. This is generalising of course, as religions, belief systems and political messages are added to, redacted and promoted or neglected according to who is in power, and what cultural story is being massaged into an easily digestible group of beliefs.

Werewolf by El Grimlock Deviant Art
Werewolves are fun, they serve as warnings of predators and are symbolic of animal instincts and sexual energy

We have thrown out our myths and fables, which served as communal ways of transmitting not only important life lessons, but basic survival skills while warning us of genuine dangers such as predatory animals and the danger of wandering into the wilderness away from our tribe or group where death was a constant threat.  Our cultural stories are infinitely adaptable to any belief system and we tell stories to small children, and it becomes part of their ongoing education.

As adults stories entertain us but also can be used to convey important life lessons.  At no point do we cease individually or collectively growing and learning.  Life is growth.  Of course we can choose to remain stupid and not learn, nobody is forcing us. We may have moved on from the fundamentalist mythic-literal interpretation of events in world religions, we may dismiss myths and fables as silly stories from a primitive world view.  However, if we deconstruct our cultural stories, this in no way fulfills our genuine need that was at least partly satisfied by those stories.

Our need for cultural values passed on through oral traditions, our need for wisdom, a sense of belonging, our place in the world, our unique personal story, and the mass story of our tribe, town, city, nation or world story.  This article then is about stories and myths, our need of them, how they fail to meet our needs and how we live in constantly changing times where our mass cultural stories and fictional stories are all up for grabs.  Our mass and local culture is being rewritten, re-interpreted, re-invented.  As deconstructionism and reductionism have served their purposes, the inevitable move then is back to Holism, to arrive at the place where we have always been. quote-we-shall-not-cease-from-exploration-and-the-end-of-all-our-exploring-will-be-to-arrive-where-we-t-s-eliot-57010 Disassembled Car Let us say for example you take a modern car / automobile and you pull it apart.  You take every piece of it and completely dismantle it, label every piece carefully, you look carefully at all the parts, see the functions they have and can accurately tell someone everything you have learned from taking the car apart, you have learned all you possibly can from this process. Now, suppose you have to be on the other side of town within the next hour. What use is the car to you in this disassembled state?

We still have need of a vehicle to take us to our intended destination.

We have dismantled our cultural myths, we have dismantled our religions (although some still choose to be part of them). We have dismantled and studied the ways of life of hundreds of generations who proceeded our time on this earth.  We feel that we are above all of that primitive stuff, we feel that we are above – rather than a part of – Nature.  That somehow the religion of Science will fix everything, that there are experts somewhere who have it all figured out. We still have the same needs as human beings that led to those myths, religions, spiritual and wisdom traditions and cultural stories being formed in the first place.

We may currently be living in the techno-inspired future of Tron, The Matrix and The Terminator, but we are still running around in hunter gather bodies primed for action and reaction to immediate physical threats.  Our intellect has grown in leaps in bounds while we have lost touch with our “primitive” bodies, the modern workspace and educational arenas see us ill-equipped to handle adrenaline and nor-adrenaline dumps into our blood stream to in response to threats both imaginary and real.  Modern man then is cut off his at the head, disconnected from his body.  We stand on the verge of reintegrating our lost stories and values, our lost ways of being.  But where we are at present is a place of fear and uncertainty that can lead to inaction where action is required.

We are then the hunter gatherers who have evolved to greater intelligence and sophisticated culture and domination of the natural world, but have yet to evolve our world views.  Like a caterpillar mid transformation, the promise of the butterfly is yet to appear, and some traditionalists want to remain caterpillars, while progressives argue that we are already butterflies. From my perspective I would say we are collectively like Neo in The Matrix, some of us have taken the “reality” pill, while others are as yet undecided, but the future of humanity demands that we both grow up and wake up to ourselves and our world.  To remain ignorant is a luxury none of us can afford if we want to survive as species.Terminator Matrix Tron Neo Arnold What we have not done in the modern world is create a new world myth, world religion or world spirituality to replace what we have pulled apart.  We are a culture and world obsessed with technology, but we have yet to reconcile our hunter gatherer roots with our techno space age ambitions. No true synthesis of belief system that incorporates our previous ways, meets out genuine needs and integrates with our modern and post-modern technological world view has yet appeared. What we are left with is endless yearning for something undefinable, something just out of reach.

We don’t quite know what that something IS but we know we have the capacity to fulfill any wish or desire we may entertain.  The cycle of satisfaction and completion escapes us when we are lost in frivolous pursuits and neglect the essentials of life. We lack a communal world story to match out current living at a world-centric level.  Our problems are no longer just local, but global.  But our religions and spiritual traditions have remained in the cultural dark ages while our every day reality has blasted off to the the moon and back.

Old time religions where never intended to handle world-centric concerns.  It’s like asking a Ford Model T to outperform a V8 Supercar, Formula 1 or Nascar in a race, that old Ford vehicle was NEVER intended for such a task, and is completely incapable of fulfilling that purpose.  Our technological progress have outpaced out spiritual progress as a species and few today are capable of even defining what Spirituality even means, instead being lost in petty arguments about whose version of the Truth is more “true”.

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Australian Aboriginal culture may be earths oldest at an estimated 75,000 years of unbroken genetic lineage

Some have tried to synthesize a new world view based on the old world views, but so far attempts at world religions, world spirituality and/or belief systems have failed.  And some people would say good, we don’t need it, we are no longer primitives running around with stone and wooden idols making human sacrifices to some god in the hopes that our crops will grow and that we will be successful in slaughtering our enemies/neighbors/friends whose hearts we have literally ripped out while atop our glorious citadels. We have taken the old ways, pulled them apart, claim we understand them and they are redundant in our new scientific world view (Science being the default world religion of today).

There is a clear and present danger in assuming we know everything there is to be known.

That kind of arrogant erroneous thinking led to limited beliefs like the world being flat and that the earth was the center of the known Universe. When some new information comes along that proves how clueless we are as a species, we tend to try and categorise and apply it within old world paradigms.  But that is like trying to play a DVD or Blu-Ray disc on a record player, not only does it not work, the technologies are fundamentally incompatible.  Retrofitting new world experiences into old world paradigms is a recipe for disaster, if not mass voluntary suicide through ignorance.

Progress through the Sciences is generally met with resistance, ridicule and denial, often one grave at a time.  As the old guard dies off, new ideas and theories gain the opportunity to flourish or flounder among younger generations who eventually grow up and replace the old guard completely.  When new ideas are suggested, we often view them through the filter of our old world beliefs.  But we just metaphorically threw out most of our old ideas, or rejected them as irrelevant back in the beginning of this article – so where does that leave us?

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Labelling something does not mean we truly understand something, we may miss vital information that does not fit the label

We live in a cultural, religious, scientific and spiritual ghetto.

Where does that leave us?  It leaves us with the story of “no story”.  It leaves us thinking hey, we are pretty smart, we don’t need all that old cultural junk from pre-modern times, it just held us back, we’re marching boldly forward into the future baby! But what if some of those old ideas and traditions actually held something quite valuable, that we did not recognise.  What if amongst the noise of wars, persecution, assassinations, executions and genocide of the old world in the name of the most holy, or whatever King or dictator was flavor of the month – we lost something of our unique cultural story and perspective?

What if we overlooked some very fundamental needs that were addressed through life lessons and fables by those old world stories? What if there were deeper meanings to those stories we learned as children that we would neither understand nor comprehend understand until we were adults and seriously inquire into our inner and outer universe? Another perspective at being at a place of “no story”, is that we are in metaphorical terms at a point of “zero” or infinity.  At the point of zero, everything is possible.

Eventually we will have a new cultural mass story, but first our old ways have died like the Dinosaurs, the hazard of moving to zero point is that we lose our traditions and gradual incremental growth oriented changes. Good cultural stories, be they scientific, religious or purely poetic or mythic are like a Trojan Horse.  Outwardly they appear as one benign and perhaps beautiful form, while inside they contain something potentially more powerful that may help or harm us. Good stories may act as catalysts, as information that interacts with out unique consciousness to unleash our innate potentials by reminding us of who we are and the life we intended to live before we got distracted by the ‘noise’ of the world. the unwritten22 Good stories exist on multiple levels that can speak to different ages and generations.  Good stories can have every day simplistic meanings in union with deeper symbolic meanings, every element then becomes essential and we should consciously aim to understand the literal AND symbolic meanings of good stories, we should aim to understand both the simple and the complex in life, valuing both interpretations equally. unwritten arm55 How we learn and evolve is partly through increasing our simultaneous parallel perspectives on life.  The more contrasting and complementary points of view we are able to hold within our own minds at one time the greater our mental model of reality and life becomes. The unwritten Book The cyclic journey of our lives appears to be a circle, but from a different perspective the unique story arcs of our individual lives is more akin to a spiral that seemingly overlaps with a return to the resonant themes and motivation of our lives, this spiral then is a growth of our selves in time as we overlap previous versions of ourselves. Sometimes when we seem to be at the end of something in life, we are truly starting from zero with new perspectives. Regression seems to be a step backwards, but our inner and outer journey in life is a series of spirals that bring us full circle through our path of learning with ever deepening meaning and an expanding perspective. Spiral A big part of that learning in today’s world is learning not only our own cultural history and traditions, but the history, traditions and ways of life of other cultures.  We are only capable of thinking within the dominant paradigms we grew up with in our own culture and passively absorbed as children.  While we learn from our mass and individual history, a key point is not to be enslaved to any idea that does not serve our needs for the sake of “tradition”.

Tradition is fundamentally the passing on of daily habit through ritualised repeated behaviors for people who have no access to written records, or are under the rule of an oppressive leader.  Tradition and ritual preserve cultural wisdom across all fields, as well as the deeper subtle fields of the inner universe (your own mind), soliciting both beneficial inner states and outward physical action. If we want to expand our personal realities and intelligence then there is a need to learn the ways of people from cultures different than the culture we grew up in, not just their outer actions but how they elicit their inner subjective states, their fundamental relationship to how they perceive the world – while remaining committed to your own learning, expansion of love and not being a slave to any ideas or limited philosophies that oppress humanity along the way.

To transcend and include, but not be held back by anyone or anything. Our devaluation of wisdom traditions and ways of the old world has lead us to feel collectively lost and alone in an existential void, and we try so hard to fill that void with drugs, bad relationships, food, sex, entertainment, or anything else, but it is never enough and does not truly satisfy us.  Anything to offer a brief reprieve from that emptiness that we so desperately need to be satisfied, and which can easily be satisfied once we identify that which is essential in life, that which is real and timeless. red skull hitler stalin thanos dr doom dictator bad guy We collectively lost sight of our traditions as they became more and more perverted through the willful destruction of libraries, perversions of sacred teachings by rulers who seek to control the masses, genocides, wars, gaps in the passing down of traditions, or that good old standby – mad power mongers and super-villain like rulers with iron fists who tear down culture and tradition in the name of their own inflated ego or anti-life philosophy. Think Dr. Doom, Thanos, Darkseid, Stalin, Hitler etc. To destroy the will and heart of a people, you take away their culture, you take away, destroy or pervert their personal story.  You break the will and the Spirit of people be denying them their basic freedoms and sowing seeds of doubt and mistrust in their own minds about who they fundamentally are in their heart of hearts.

Dr Doom Superman
Dr Doom meets the Kryptonian Knuckle Sandwich

I don’t have the answers, just an inquiring mind that never rests – and I do not suggest you look for the answer to life’s biggest questions in a Hollywood movie. But, in the existential wasteland we live in contributed to by deconstructionism and a post-modern rational scientific world view there now exists a vacuum, and nature abhors a vacuum.  Something will come along to fill it, it may be good or bad, but what that something is we do not know.

The future arrives one day at a time, and it is not all hover boards, DeLorean’s and sports almanacs. Part of what has stepped into that existential void we currently live in is modern superhero cinema.  It is only one contender, one idea in the ring, and it is not the only idea out there.  Superhero cinema in no way replaces or meets our actual needs in life, and I do not mean to suggest it does.  Superhero cinema does not replace genuine Spirituality or man’s search for for or relationship with God in any way.

I believe that Superhero cinema can be inspiring, uplifting, but also remind us of own potential for greatness, and inspire us to live out not only our grandest dreams, but to co-operate with others, to be considerate and be of service however we can in life.

When I watch the old Star Trek shows, I see a human race that bickers and fights amongst itself, but I see a human race that is ultimately united in their mission and purpose.  Good science fiction, fantasy and superhero stories can help to remind us that we are one human race, one big family, and the sooner we learn that lesson, the more can co-operate and work together creatively instead of inventing new ways to slaughter each other.  I love when fiction reminds us of that possibility.  For to manifest out hearts desire we must first see that desire as possible, we must imagine a future grander than any Star Trek like utopia where humanity functions as a healthy whole organism, as symbiotic organisms that live with the earth and its many species rather than as parasites or viruses who attack their host. Star Trek Unity and Viruses The hero archetype and myth is as old as time itself, the particular superhero evolution of the hero archetype is just another spin on a timeless tale. Whether the hero/heroine and superhero/superheroine archetype is one that ultimately serves us or holds us back as a species, as a culture is really up to us.  Where we place our values, what we invest our time and efforts in ultimately determines the direction of our lives.

The Hero’s Journey of Joseph Campbell is a fascinating, deep, insightful and meaningful work. However that work comments on the past, on what is and has been.  As valuable as it is, it only a beginning.  It can only tell us where we have been, and not where we are going. The Hero’s journey is one of common tropes across different cultures in different times identified within a patriarchal paradigm that displaces female power by necessity.  Whether we continue to define the Heroine and Superheroine in male terms, as reactions to male power, rather than finding the authentic voice of feminine power and strength within women and men as we live today, and incorporate that into our stories and new mythologies is up to us. Super hero The re-emergence of the suppressed divine Goddess within all of us is long overdue.  Living as we currently do is psychologically unbalanced for both sexes, how and when we address that issue is up to us as individuals and as communities. Men need to be able to express their emotions and follow their intuition, Women need to be able to stand up as self-confident empowered individuals and equals, and not as merely reactions to perceived male power.

Each of us must do the hard inner work of acknowledging and allowing healthy expression of the male and female aspects of the psyche within each of us.  Collectively we must work to embody our deepest values in the outer world as free thinking and feeling men and women. Perhaps it is time on this planet for the artificial battle of the sexes to come to an end, and instead be replaced by a genuine equality and co-operation that we have never known in modern times.  It is up to us to create, model and live that way of being, and to refuse to back away from the challenge.

We should not remain prisoners of the past, or outmoded ways of living, merely because what is new and different may at first be frightening and strange to us.  Life is change and motion, evolution and growth whether we want it to be or not.  We can resist the flow of life, or move along with the beat of the evolutionary impulse within our hearts.

Ellen Ripley Wonder Woman Buffy Vampire Slayer Female Goddess Heroine1
Strong empowered female heroines are rare

So within the existing cultural and explicitly sexist paradigm of the Patriarchy we currently live in, I feel several significant films have come along that attempt to address our unmet need for myth, meaning and story in our lives.  I am not saying that they satisfy our genuine needs, or that movies should ever take the place of genuine wisdom – just that one offshoot of the never ending evolution of story telling has appeared in a popular format that speaks to the masses.

Inspiring films are a complement to, rather than a replacement of our other activities in life.  However, while good, these films also fail to integrate feminine energy, to integrate authentic feminine voice and power, despite however seemingly progressive some of them may be. Storytelling, like most other arts has become so commercialized that we barely recognise its roots and origins. The films that we find satisfying not only as pure entertainment and escapism, all have deeper philosophical meanings layered within their narrative structure.

The films I feel that best meet this criteria for putting an emphasis on myth and magic, on Science and Spirit – and this is not a complete list, just well known films that fit the bill that I happen to like a lot – are Star Wars (1977), Superman (1978), Rocky (1976), The Matrix (1999), X-Men (2000) Spider-Man (2002), Batman Begins (2005) The Dark Knight (2008) and The Avengers (2012).  I could have chosen others, but these films were seen by enough people that even those who have never seen them have at least heard of the characters, and all of these films feature archetypal heroic stories. batman begins darth vader wolverine neo matrix rocky spider man movie Part of the appeal of modern hero and superhero cinema is the very primal, fundamental way in which the films attempt to address our need for stories, myths and cultural narrative.  Whether Rocky, Batman or the Avengers, superhero cinema is a celebration of old world traditional values (but not Dogma) wrapped up in a shiny new package. Superhero cinema tells the timeless tale of heroes and heroines rising and triumphing over adversity, growing in wisdom and knowledge to meet life’s challenges, and offering their unique gifts in service to the world – rather than sinking away into depression and feelings of powerlessness. What constitutes the core values of a Hero or Superhero, what makes them a hero in the old world sense is the quest, facing adversity, victory etc.  A hero in our modern context in my view however is not so much about any particular quest. batman-3

The hero I most often think of and admire is Batman.  His quest is ordinary and never ending.  

He can never win, his quest will never finish, he can never win, it is by definition impossible. Yet he fulfills his duty anyway, not because of any external rewards, not for any magical swords or fair maidens or the love of the people.  Batman gives his gifts selflessly, because there is a genuine need for him in Gotham City.  But more than that, Batman is simply who Bruce Wayne is.  Batman is Bruce Wayne’s calling in life, it is his mission, sole purpose and primary focus in life to be Batman, along with everything that represents.

As an avatar of darkness and shadows, Batman makes the unknown known, he makes the unconscious conscious, shedding light on the ugliest parts of humanity that we refuse to see, acknowledge or integrate.

Batman is a metaphor for the alchemy of our mind and soul, of how to integrate and transform our darkest impulses and direct them towards our highest good.

What I love about Batman, or Spider-Man or the Avengers is that they knowingly face certain death and impossible situations, yet they boldly march forward, because being a hero is what is in their DNA, it defines who they are.  Heroes in my mind are selfless individuals who serve the needs of others not just out of a sense of duty or responsibility, but because they genuinely care about the welfare of others.

They are heroes not just because they choose to be, but because they don’t know how NOT to be Heroes, they don’t know how to shut off their humanity or to suppress their feelings, so instead they must be who they are. The heroic movies may focus on spectacle and action, but the heart of a hero is forged in the crucible of testing their values against adversity while not compromising themselves.  A hero then is one who serves others and lives by their core values, their own moral code and not by the laws of the nation, and is not motivated by external forces.  A hero follows what is in their heart, what they know to be true, and a true hero does what they do out of love for humanity, out of love for life. heart diagram-horz This article is a long one and I I have plenty more to say on this topic, so I’ve broken it up into two parts – stay tuned for PART#2, where I will discuss the themes and the cool bits of each of the films I just mentioned in detail.  I’ll be talking about Rocky and Batman, X-Men and other great characters.  Stick around, you’ll be glad you did!