ByTiago Sarmento, writer at
Tiago Sarmento

Why superheroes?

That's a question I've been asking myself a lot lately, ever since I decided to study them.

Right before I joined the Master's program, a few years ago, I was in doubt whether this was a valid subject to explore academically or not. Don't get me wrong, OF COURSE IT IS! But in Brazil that's not a very academical area, and people often tend to overlook these kindda subjects. We don't have a lot of field work. And when I was writing my dissertation application, and needed a valid argument to join the program, I caught myself asking this same question over and over again.


Riddle me this... I mean, riddle ME, Joel!!
Riddle me this... I mean, riddle ME, Joel!!

Why should they accept this subject, if the university have no interest at all in them? They do not research anything related to blockbusters, they are all about Iranian Cinema or something alike. Why should I dive deep into the hero mythos and, here's the catch, approach them with a theory field that only but a few have before: psychoanalysis? Why should I dedicate my professional life to serve and protect the memory of such treasured characters since the beginning of mankind?

It was clear to me - as it is to you - that we LOVE heroes, superheroes, villains and capes. As well as "truth and justice", and anti-heroes. And we love them anywhere and anytime. Comics, graphic novels, video games, TV shows, movies, action figures, notebooks cover, in a ARG... The worst thing was that as deep I was trying to find a valid argument for acceptance, I was dead sure that superhero movie genre was not about marketing phenomena, as it was said in the darker corridors of the university.

Why superheroes, son?
Why superheroes, son?

I was often questioning why, of all symbols and signs, we chose superheroes to help raise us. Why do I love Batman and Nightcrawler since my early childhood, and why does the Nolan Trilogy was something worth analyzing deeply? And it was freudian psychoanalysis who helped me answer those questions (FYI: in my dissertation, I compared both Batman Begins and the 1989 Tim Burton's Batman having The Uncanny [Das Unheimliche] as main concept of analysis).

When application period was almost due, and I was ALMOST choosing the easy path by studying anything that was already done a thousand times around here just for a diploma's sake, something hit me. I asked this question to a friend, and his answer was straightforward (funny though, he answered in english; he's got a taste for the theatrical):


Plain and simple. Heroes are flawless.

Stupid right? WRONG!
Stupid right? WRONG!

BANG! I had my argument. Not that they are flawless per se, because in the stories they have flaws. After all, they are fictional characters built from archetypes. But they are flawless in such a way that, no matter what, they will never disappoint us. Their ability to never let us down, to always be there as symbols of affection, wonderment and perfection, make them flawless. We look to them as something missing from within, as role models, created and perpetuated in our culture as projections of ourselves, something we can dream on, something that can make us escape from out tough reality. Something that is US.

Yes, heroes are flawless because we are full of flaws. But somewhere deep inside our mind we have to make up for it. We have to rework that last line we never said to our boss. That kiss we never gave. That punch we took and silenced. We are constantly thinking and re-elaborating those things! We need to be saved, and the only thing that can save us is ourselves (ha ha, very Dalai Lahma, I know). But it's true! Not in a positivist way, but in a way that help us carry the burden only we know about. The One Ring we must cast into the fires of Mount Doom somewhere in our unconscious. One that might take a lifetime to, and even so, it's not certain that one can achieve it. And the only way we can accept this, since we cannot change the past - yet - is by projecting our feeling.

No, we do not ask ourselves every time "what would Superman do?" - we all know this answer. But we often fantasised about wearing a cape and cowl and help the innocent, the oppressed, our reflections and projections on others. When we were young, how many times didn't we smiled when our uncle asked our true identity behind the Dark Knight's mask? How many dragons did you slay in your bedroom? How many things have you corrected in our mind about what you shouldda-couldda-wouldda done in the last few days?

Joseph Campbell (the guy behind the Hero Mono-myth and psychoanalisys enthusiast) said in The Hero of a Thousand Faces that we bring with us "all the life potentialities that we never managed to bring to adult realization [...]; For such golden seeds do not die. If only a portion of that lost totality could be dredged up into the light of day, we should experience a marvelous expansion of our powers, a vivd renewal of 'life'". And since psychoanalysis assumes that almost everything we ever felt is buried deep down our unconscious and it is passive to return to light, whether in dreams, puns and wits, uncanniness and slips, we MIGHT still carry that same child within us.

Illustration by Andy Fairhurst.
Illustration by Andy Fairhurst.

And aren't we just grown up children? I mean, we still spend a considerable amount of time searching and gathering news for superhero movies like psycho, and we still laugh and cry/love and hate movies (hello Catwoman and Elektra!). They still affect us. Even if you think that psychoanalysis is only about "sleeping-with-your-mother/killing-your-father" - trust me, it isn't, at leats not THAT LITERALLY -, you can still realise that, in a way or another, they AFFECT YOU. Otherwise, you wouldn't even be here reading this or following Superhero Moviepilot. There must be something kept inside that draws our attention towards them. But that's completely subjective, and the answer is extremely particular. I mean, what you kept and what you bring along with you to Gotham or Avengers 2 in the movie theaters.

So, why superheroes?

Because we can always relly on them. We will always have The Killing Joke and Arkham Asylum, no matter how many Joel Schumachers and Spider-Man movies are out there (ICYI: there's a mantra I've been using and it works pretty well in my life to keep me balanced. When something's wrong in your life, blame on Joel Schumacher). For each Bay's TNMT, we will always have Days of Future Past to go back in time with Sprite or Hugh Jackman and save whatever we must. For each X3, we will have an Avenger. For Each Fredric Wertham, we will have a Joss Whedon.

Thank GOD we will always have this one...
Thank GOD we will always have this one...

Well, ate least deep inside us, where it really matters, we will still have all of them. And we will still rework and re-tell, re-live and re-elaborate stories that we think could have gone a different way. Maybe, we will always be a little unsatisfied for they did not make a perfect movie or a perfect comic or whatever. But will we turn our backs to them? No, because they do not turn theirs on us. Because they ARE US, only with more...

This quote is pretty darn interesting.

"In the realm of fiction, we have the plurarity of lives we crave. We die altogether with a hero that we identify with; however, we survive it and, quite unharmed, are prepare to die again with the next hero, with the same security we will outlive him too" (Freud, Reflections on War and Death).


Latest from our Creators