Americas Superheroes: Traumatic experiences lead to heroism?

There are five Super Heroes in America who are commonly recognized for their popular standings at the top of the original Marvel and DC comic industries. The five Hero’s I studied were Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Captain America and The Green Hornet. Each one has some sort of catalyst that turns them from an average person into the heroes we know them as today. Each character has gone through some sort of traumatic experience that pushed them to evolve. Yet was this for the people or for revengeful purposes?



Superman was our first known comic book superhero, it is said that without him none of the others would have followed. He is extremely important even in todays history. His story goes something like this; he was the only surviver of his home planet, that exploded, Krypton. His father Jor-El died, but saved his sons life. He landed on planet earth and was raised by the Kent family and formally went by Clark Kent.

Batman, who is also known as Bruce Wayne also endured a traumatic experience but unfortunately lost both his parents, Thomas and Martha. They were going to the movies, walked down the wrong alley way, and instead of being simply robbed they were shot down and left for dead. He then served as another icon to Americans becoming a leading crime fighter.

Spider-Man, also known as Peter Parker debuted in 1962 into the comic world. He, like the others shared a common theme of trying to save the world against villans, motivated by the murder of his uncle who raised him, Uncle Ben. After this, he spent the rest of his life avenging his death, but before that? He was simply a student working for his local paper. He had no luck with the ladies, difficulties with friends and employers and went almost unnoticed.

Captain America played a patriotic role, becoming the living symbol for American Freedom during trying times of war. His attire says it all, wearing the red, white and blue as a sign of liberty. Similar themes repeat, he to had to go through trying times. He was left for dead frozen in an ice block until he woke one day and spent the rest of his time saving the world.

And finally, we have another superhero I grew up loving, the Green Hornet. His name was Britt Reid, and after the death of his father, he and his fathers old assistant Kato team together, wear masks, and fight crime.

superheroesThere are obvious similarities between the superheroes listed above. Each and every one of their “super powers” were born from the traumatic events they were forced to endure. Is this the reason these superheroes are so super? Were the events they had to witness, deaths, and bad experiences what made them who they are? Or would they have been capable of making history regardless. I personally think these tragedies gave them the power, the motivation, and the drive to be who they are to us today.



  1 comment for “Americas Superheroes: Traumatic experiences lead to heroism?

  1. phantommiria6
    January 31, 2013 at 6:53 pm

    I think it’s interesting to note that all five heroes you’ve mentioned here would fit the definition of “classical hero”, according to a man you may or may not have already heard of, Joseph Campbell. Back in high school and even throughout early portions of my college experience, I was introduced to Campbell’s work, written in the 1940’s, entitled “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”. Campbell’s book performs a detailed study of what we’ve come as readers to consider “canon” in our superhero stories. What I mean by this is that in every superhero story we see, the audience has come to expect certain qualities from their heroes and also they expect them to be certain things. One of these things, according to Campbell, is that we expect most heroes to at least start off with humble origins. In beginning to compare your five heroes to Campbell’s notions, every one of your five, including superman (who would have been considered “normal” back on his home planet)starts off an “everyday guy”.

    Another literary analyst of note that your entry reminded me of is Christopher Vogler, whom expanded on Campbell’s work. Vogler suggested that in addition to the heroes themselves, we as viewers expect certain things to happen to our heroes before we can call them heroes or even understand their stories. One of the requirements for good “canon” according to Vogler is that something (a traumatic event in the case you’re making) jarring must occur in the character’s world and that something must shake the very foundations of the character so much that they want to change and/or take action. This event is usually what kick-starts a story or story universe.

    With that being said, I think the goal of having heroes subjected to life-altering scenarios early on is to convey some aspect of realism that ties the real-world audience into what is happening. Superheroes and super powers (or super wealth) are already fantastical enough and that creates some estrangement to a comic’s “believably”. By having them experience something traumatic, for example loss of a loved one, they reintroduce something real that the audience can relate to. How the heroes react to these events, namely the real-world emotions they experience, not only makes fictitious characters more realistic, but it also draws sympathy and understanding for what that hero had to go through. In short, we start to know our heroes and we start to like or dislike them as a result.

Comments are closed.