What is it about a super hero that captures our imagination? Is it founded in that weird Hulk sensation we all have opening a stubborn pickle jar, or that out-of-the-blue Spiderman reaction time we’ve had catching a glass of water before it tips over? Whatever the circumstances are everyone has had that one moment of extra ordinary.
The concept of a super hero is ancient in nature, in fact most of the super heroes of today have some sort of roots tracing back to legends and mythology from around the world. Abilities like super strength, flying, animal familiars, super speed and invisibility are the classic traits that turn up over and over again.
The Flash is very much like the Greek Messenger God Hermes, Ice Man is very much like the Nordic Frost Spirit, the Hulk is very much like Hercules. The list goes on and on.
Some heroes of modern day are so well known one could argue they are even more familiar than the legends from antiquity. For example if you picked someone at random from any country on earth and asked them who Beowulf is? They might know, but then ask the same person. Who Superman is and I’m pretty sure you’ll get a wealth of information. The alter ego of Clarke Kent, phone booths, spandex, the letter “S”, a red cape, the strange green rock called Kryptonite, his love Lois Lane.
“Look Up in the Sky, It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s… Superman!!! ”
While Superman as a character is great in theory and was in 1938, after reading about Superman flying into our 15 million °C Sun… without a burn mark on his body… or moving our Moon a few degrees to the left without somehow adversely effecting gravity on Earth the suspension of disbelief is cheapened a little.
This same storyline problem holds true for characters like the Silver Surfer who is imbued with a 4th of the power in the universe, or like the Green Lantern or Dr. Strange who have at their will “all” the power in the universe heroes that are almost so super that you can’t help wonder… how is it possible to not win.
The very definition of a super hero is someone with almost god like abilities, yet to read about a super hero with god like powers whooping up bad guys right and left with little effort isn’t very interesting.
So where does this leave us? Where do our expectations of a super hero become tangible enough that a good story line can emerge? With the volume of great comics that have existed over the years this question is almost impossible to answer.
To all comic fans schooled in character lore it is hard to boil down, reduce into, and extract a singular character or characters that embody the essence of greatness, but I think without question to comic readers and non readers two characters emerge almost always. They are Batman and Wonder Woman.
Batman sometimes known as the Dark Knight or the Detective has been around since 1939, almost as long as superman and has gone through many variations but the baseline story has remained intact since his inception. The storyline is roughly: A middle aged man, filthy rich, his parents were killed in front of him as a boy, who has vowed to rid his once peaceful city and the world of crime and corruption. Oh and I forgot to mention the best part… Gadgets. Batman as he is only mortal and cannot fly, is not all together very strong and is not super fast has to use gadgets to tackle his problems.
Despite being mortal with no super abilities Batman has actually saved Superman in many instances, his mortality has been put to the test extensively and in some cases Batman has been beaten so badly he literally dies on the spot only to be revived by one of his companions and in some storylines the villain is so powerful and cunning that Batman can only fight them into stalemate long enough for help to arrive.
Batman is my personal favorite, while wonder woman comes in a close second.
Wonder Woman has existed since 1941 and was originally introduced as a fighting force alongside the soldiers of World War II. Born from the god’s as an immortal she gives up her family and immortality to help out mankind by leaving her Amazonian island. Her special powers consist of lighting fast reflexes, beyond human strength and heightened senses giving her a very Herculean persona which is pretty typical.
So what makes Wonder woman so interesting if she has such typical powers? How have her comics survived all these years?
What makes Wonder Woman so untypical is that where almost all mythological stories and comics from around the world contain men having super strength, lighting fast reflexes and super senses Wonder Woman as her name states, is a woman. What makes her so wonderful is that since 1941 she has been defeating the best of the best as a mortal armed with two bracelets and a bit of indestructible rope.
She like Batman has fought alongside the virtually indestructible Superman and saved him many times, she has been completely beaten to within a fraction of her life many-many times in some storylines she has even gone to the afterlife and picked a fight with Death himself to save other heroes to bring them back to the realm of the living.
What makes comic storylines like Batman and Wonder Woman so great are that they dig right at the core of what makes us human, they provide a glimpse into the essence of what makes a regular person like you and me rise above the fray to do good things. Comics are stories nothing more nothing less but if you… You’ll have to excuse me… there is a devilish jar of pickles that I have to go open…