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These days, it seems like everyone loves a good superhero movie. To say that we like Ironman or Batman or Green Arrow seems easy enough now. Going back 20 years, perceptions change. Fans of the live adaptations seem like they are more popular than the source material—the comic books.
With this in mind, it is all too easy to actually miss the point of these heroes and what they mean to us. How they impact our lives.
When the late great, Stan Lee passed away, Bill Maher made a comment that (understandably) infuriated a lot of people:
“Deep, deep mourning for a man who inspired millions to, I don’t know, watch a movie, I guess.”
While I was also angered by this, I can to make a slight defense from ignorance. Maher simply doesn’t understand the comic book community.
There are many factors that make a person a fan of comic books. Some people appreciate the story and talented writing that goes on. They love that there are decades of history that build up on a character, and yet they still allow new readers and easy way in and gives them the choice to go back into the history.
Now, I can go into how the artwork has evolved and the subtle message put into making layers of meaning. Or I could go into the story arcs that manage to welcome new readers and builds off decades of stories that has evolved with the best of literary writers. I could go into how cool the outfits and superpowers are and the interesting lore behind the hero.
But the truth is, these aren’t our superheroes because of any of that.
They are our heroes because of that they go through. While people outside of the comic book world awesome that comics are fun filled stories with bight colours and happy endings, the reality is somewhat shocking.
These stories deal with racism, drug addiction, death, suicide, alcoholism, PTSD, depression, and so much more.
Superman is an alien wearing the red, white, and blue. Mocked as boy scout; but look at him for what he is and how he grew up.
He grew up surrounded by people that he envied. People that he wished to be like and because of that, because of him being so different; young Clark Kent was a very isolated child. Surrounded yet alone —something a lot of us know all too well.
And yet, Superman takes this and learns from his own strengths. He sees the best in humanity and tries to encourage it at every turning point.
His biggest villain? A man who wants the world to hate him because he is different.
Ironman—in the movies he clearly suffers from PTSD going all they way back to when he was abducted. In the comics however, his demons become much more. It isn’t just, post-traumatic stress disorder; Tony Stark has a massive drinking problem as well as being a womanizer—something that also extends to the Green Arrow and a few others.
Wolverine has known for over 100 years that everyone he meets and builds a relationship with, he will watch grow old and die. While carries on. That thrown in with a very messed up family life, and it’s amazing he doesn’t just live out in the woods all by himself..
I can go on, but I think you get my point. These are our heroes, not because they wear cool outfits and save people in fantastical ways, but because we can relate to the personal lives that they have. The pain and the isolations. The demons that we face are reflected by the role models that we seek out. The tone of the time that we live in is reflected by the stories that we read.
And that’s why they are so great. That is why Stan Lee meant so much.
I don’t blame Bill for not understanding why losing Stan Lee was such an impact on the rest of us. At the same time, it has to be said, he was responsible for more than just a few people going to see a movie. He, and those like him, gave us role models. And taught us that no matter what hardships we face, we can get back up and keep going. Because we are the heroes we read about.