Some heroes are better than others.
Iron Man, as portrayed in the movies with Robert Downey, Jr (except Iron Man 2–I pretend that one never happened), is my favorite depiction of a superhero. Batman comes in second. When I was growing up, I only read a few Iron Man comics. He seemed like a fake superhero to me; he really had no magical super-powers. Iron Man was just a guy in a metal suit. Spider-man was my favorite then–bitten by a radioactive spider and with all kinds of abilities. Plus, when Spider-man was out of costume, he was just a geeky high-school student, bullied and shy. What adolescent boy could not relate to that?
As an adult, though, it is the reverse. Spider-man, although entertaining, I think is one of the worst superheroes portrayed and Iron Man is an icon of what a hero should be.
The problem with Spider-man, as I see it, is there is nothing heroic about his character. He happens across super powers, fails to use them to stop a crime and save his uncle, and has the worst run of luck of all the big name heroes. Peter Parker is always miserable. He is a hack photographer for a tabloid newspaper–a job that barely pays his rent; he never has the money, the girl, and the car at the same time. He allows himself to be timid and intimidated by others unless he is wearing the Spider-man costume. On top of that, Peter Parker is riddled with guilt… over his uncle’s death, over his Aunt May’s health, over his relationships, etc. As Spider-man, he is the consummate Socialist hero–burdened with trying to save the world for the sake of everyone around him, rather than doing anything for himself. He is the perfect John C. Maxwell leader; he exists to serve others. The tragedy of Spider-man is he becomes a superhero in spite of himself, not because of himself.
Contrast that to the Iron Man movie character. Tony Stark did not magically gain super-powers. He worked for his wealth as an inventor and thought leader and relied on his personal intellect not only to create solutions to challenges but also to make moral decisions. He became Iron Man when he realized his view of the world was misaligned and the technology he created was being used for purposes reprehensible to his own moral code.
Batman is similar. Among the DC Comics superheroes, he is one of the few without super-powers. Instead, he is a self-made and well-trained detective, martial artist, and businessman, often using more of his mind than his body to solve crimes and bring powerful, often maniacal, criminals to justice. I like Batman, too, because he operates within clear moral boundaries that he created. He chooses not to recognize the flaws of the judicial system and politics and he expects to pay the price for that one day. More importantly, though, he has clear ethical boundaries. Batman famously does not kill. It is his primary moral imperative. Some of his enemies know Batman will not kill, and sometimes try to use that against him, but still he stands by his own choices. He relies on his wits and abilities to outsmart his enemies–no happenstance magical powers.
You might wonder why I would spend so much time pondering over comic book superheroes?
I think heroes are important, both real and imaginary, and I think we should spend more time considering who and what we look up to and wish to emulate in our personal lives.
I don’t want to live my life like Spider-man–apologetic for nearly every mistake and riddled with regret–a superhero by chance in a low-rent apartment and never comfortable filling the role. I would rather trade up for Iron Man’s charismatic arrogance (and notice when it counts, he drops the arrogance and focuses on the task at hand), or Batman’s self-confident individualism, and be something rarely seen these days, either in film or in life… a self-made man. Now that’s someone I can look up to.
Who is your favorite superhero and what is the characteristic that seems most heroic or most significant to you?