” Superman! Help” a beautiful, hysterical blonde cries desperately into the smog of the fire. Her leg is trapped, and her throat is becoming hoarse. Just as she passes out, a massive, muscular caped figure descends from the smoke, easily heaving aside the huge iron pillar, freeing her, before tenderly lifting her away from the wreckage, wrapping her arms around his strong neck and flying away to safety, as the maniacal laughter of Lex Luther echoes through the warehouse as he burns.
Children since the beginnings of fiction, have been comforted on wild nights by stories of good champions, who will vanquish the evil-doer, thus saving the world from terrible suffering. These stories, meant to comfort and placate a young child’s mind, have been set up through the media of speech, television and the $12 billion comic book industry. But often these ideas of heroes are carried through life into a person’s adult mind; where, in today’s fraught society, many still cling to the fantasy that good will always triumph over evil.
Heroes, such as Batman, the X-Men and Spiderman, all represent basic human morality, paragons to live up to and emulate. Predictably they will always win, delivering messages of hope, and often clichï¿½d, much-repeated morals. Often these heroes are alter egos of themselves, for example Spiderman, a weak and subservient person, pushed around by many, suddenly becomes strong and athletic, finally getting the girl, and at the same time saving the world from the menacing clutches of villains with predictable names such as Boomerang, Beetle and Venom. Another example of a double persona is Batman, an adept and streamlined fighter of crime in secret, but a wealthy harmless millionaire to the public, and of course the entire X-men team, who run a day school for ‘gifted’ mutant children whilst at the same time secretly using their amazing powers to fight for equality between humans and mutants. All of these champions encourage the idea that everyone has this same potential inside of them to ‘do good’, and comic book heroes simply have the compulsory radiation poisoning, Lycra or fast cars to unleash these good intentions and unique skills on the unsuspecting scoundrels and enemies to the human race. Whilst some idols are seen to be intellectual and strategic, others simply win on strength.
Other comic book heroes, such as the Hulk, are liked because they have found their power through rage, and the angrier, the stronger, the less emotionally motivated they appear, the better. They are the personification of brute force, and these ‘monsters’ embody the human race’s violent natures and collectively aggressive subconsciousness, represented without strictures or morals, a position most boys have wanted to be in at one time or another, to be unstoppable, answerable to no one, and utterly undefeatable. These commercialised fiends often speak with the sophistication of a five year old, leading the reader to believe themselves superior to these pillars of strength, not only linguistically, but also wishfully superior in strength.
Some heroic cartoon law enforcers, such as Judge Dredd, are also amazingly popular. Judge Dredd was created in England during the Cold War abroad, and the riotousness of the Punk movement at home, and immediately gave out a clear message. Through his anonymity, represented by his helmet, and his hard, uncaring nature, he showed that justice doesn’t care who you are; he would punish you all the same. These enforcers not only gave hope that everyone would, one day, not need such strict officers, but they also warned against disaster in the future by allowing people to run wild.
Heroes can also give hope, as shown in comic books often, in the predictable triumph of good over evil, one such comic example of such pure and good intentions is that of Superman. His devotion to saving mankind, even when he is in fact an alien, adopted into our culture, and then repeatedly rescuing it is inspiring, and leads people to realise that some people are meant to save the world, but everybody can make a difference, everyone does something a little bit heroic and helpful every day. Superman is the epitome of everything the reader wants to be. Powerful, virtually indestructible, again the idea that on the outside he is a rather boring news reporter, who rather ridiculously spins around in telephone boxes to transform into a saviour, encouraging the belief that everyone has heroic ability inside of them, these are morals that Superman’s creators obviously feel need re-enforcing into society.
Morality, and the kinder side of human nature are often subtly imposed in comics, as shown in Stan Lee’s revolutionary creation, the X-Men. Outcast from society, exiled into hate and distrust, this group of gifted individuals still manage to rescue innumerable humans, who otherwise would simply have ignored or ridiculed them. Wolverine, the rebellious outcast among outcasts, embodies the side of humans that many wish they could have the strength to be. His uncontrollable nature and quick thinking make him the main character, and envied for his ability by other mutants and mere humans alike.
The seeming indestructibility of all comic book creations also gives hope in that it, again subtly, influences the reader into believing that they too, are unbreakable, giving confidence, and not necessarily that they won’t die, but also gives assurance to face up to people, to take a chance, even if they believe they are only mirroring the actions of their heroes, it can still make a difference.
Women are not often represented fairly in cartoon, stereotypically typecast as blonde and slow witted, usually being captured and in need of rescuing by the strong, invincible man. However, one strongly feministical character noticeably challenged these perspectives, Wonder Woman. Being completely feminine and beautiful, not even having a male parent, her lasso could enforce truth, and her never ending ethically correct messages of sharing and unity, she showed the world that girls could do just as much as boys, and sometimes even better. Large scenes featured her breaking any bonds or shackles on her, symbolising the freedom of women from bondage, both physical and emotional.
However, the opposite of the heroes, their enemies, the ‘baddies’ exude ferocity and maliciousness, turning everyone but their army of brainwashed minions against them. Villains in cartoons become someone to hate. The odd one out that everyone loathes, they rampage across time and space creating problems and hatching evil plots, leaving trails of pain, they are the ultimate rogues, despised and only good to be put behind bars. However, villains can be so vicious for simple reasons, the same that propel some heroes to do well. Traumatised, often during the impressionable childhood years, they become twisted, power hungry beings, seeking to rule and dominate, to make the world feel the injustices they suffered, instead of coming out of the experience stronger and more determined to do good. Villains can also be someone to blame, someone who will always be worse than yourself, no matter what you do or say to hurt others.
Villains are often misshapen or inhuman, far more so than heroes, and so do not evoke human sympathies or feelings towards them, leaving them remote in their layers of pain. Representing the dark side of human nature, the subconscious feelings of jealousy and rage that each individual keeps hidden below a veneer of tranquillity, they often seem more intellectual than the hero, cunning and devious against the heroes brute force and lack of strategy. There are more layers to villains than heroes, they often have more motivation and imagination to do evil, and be shunned and reviled, than the rather obvious saving the world that can be done for money, fame or adoration. Also, villains are often immoral and conscious-less, hedonistic in their enjoyment of filth and anguish.
For example, The Penguin in the Batman series. Rejected and shunned as a child, deformed because of a terrible accident, even in adulthood he remains motivated entirely by a need to revenge adolescent torment. Hating Batman, whilst secretly aspiring to be Batman, he seeks to relieve his feelings of agony and jealousy by destroying the thing that makes him feel so terrible, the being that constantly goads him and reminds him of his own deficiencies, the very same traits that lead The Penguin to be abandoned in his early years.
Batman chose to take on the role of saviour because he couldn’t save his parents, whereas the Penguin became so twisted because his parents couldn’t save him. Both characters are trapped in juvenile responses to traumatising instances in their childhoods, the Penguin trapped in a tangled maze of self loathing, vengeance and hate, and Batman within a self-denying trap of needing to help others because he had failed one so dear to him, whilst both are essentially lonely and isolated figures, who have simply responded in separate ways to their misfortunes, making choices that all people reaching maturity must make.
Another misunderstood villain is Magnito, adversary to the X-men, but also a mutant outcast. He has the same strange gifts as others, and rejected by humans, instead of choosing to aid humanity, despite their vilification, seeking to gain their respect, he decides to punish mankind for their mistrust fear and suspicion which made him into a bitter, twisted dictator. He also blames humans for his orphan state, as it was humans who, during the time of the tyranny of Hitler, a real-life demon, severed him from the nurturing nucleus of his early existence.
And as people mature through adolescence, a time when, and into adulthood, they often take these ideas of strong morals, belief and honour into their lives, sometimes without realising it, but always taking assurance from the one, fundamental certainty, that good, whatever its incarnation, will always triumph over evil, however it is represented, whether in a colossal fight between two preternaturally powered super beings, or simply that a court case has been won and justice served.
However, what makes a hero or a villain is their reactions and decisions resulting from these similarly life-shattering events, the hero is only a villain who has made humanistic choices, and a villain is simply a hero who opted for malevolence. Heroes are essentially average individuals, who have overcome their limitations, whereas villains are still mediocre beings, who choose to hide behind these limitations instead of turning them into positive episodes which can be reflected on positively to be learnt from and beneficial to the development of a persons character and values.
The examples and illustrations within comics and cartoon serve to exhibit the inner capabilities inherent within each person’s spirit, because heroes and villains, whoever they are, are simply the extremes and personifications of human nature and its strongest and weakest points.
As they fly into the sunset, she sighs and leans her head against the broad expanse of his chest. Cradling her protectively in his arms he soars above the dark city, as another entrancing day in Metropolis draws to a close. Superman has again vanquished the villain, saved the world and his love, all using his amazing preternatural talents. Tune in same time, same channel tomorrow, for some more ‘butt-kicking’ action.