They're able to do things we can't do. They're faster, stronger, and gifted with abilities almost god-like, but there is one thing that truly bonds them all; one element of a life fighting evil that cannot be escaped, whether you wear a cape, shoot an arrow, wield a hammer, bounce off rooftops, or turn green with anger. They pay a price both in blood and in personal sacrifice. Yes they may be fiction, but lets ignore the falsehoods and imagine living a life where you face almost impossible odds against foes that are unbeatable to most on a daily basis-and there is no room for failure. Where the world counts on you, whether they know it or not. Stressed out yet?
You can be outfitted with all the technology in the world, or have the ability to leap buildings over a single bound-but when you are faced with certain death, things become all too human. PTSD has been evident in some of the heroes on both the small and big screens. Nightmares, sudden flashbacks, and suicidal thoughts are just some of the symptoms superheroes have dealt with, especially those who are more "human" than super-human. Tony Stark forfeited his life to save the planet, and the realization that he was going to die still haunted him deeply after.
We elevate them as heroes, often ignoring the physical scars of their heroism. Broken bones, severe lacerations, and bad concussions are nothing to them, at first. Yet, when the mission is done, and they look back at the events- it all comes back home. The battle is one thing, the aftermath is another. Jessica Jones was tortured mentally, raped physically, and scarred emotionally at the hands of Kilgrave, The Purple Man. Yet-she still fought back through it all and finally took back what she lost. Yet, what appealed to us more? The way she used her super strength to combat a far more superior opponent, or the fact that she felt pain on a more human level, regardless of power or not?
We can't relate to having superpowers, but we can relate to human tragedy. We can relate to someone who fights a war on the inside against their demons. Take for example heroes like The Punisher. He runs away from what makes us feel alive, preferring to stay emotionally numb. Racked with strong guilt, depression, or worry for anyone who cares for them; forever changed with the glimmer of the life they had before permanently snuffed out. Fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, loved ones brutally taken from our heroes - molding who they become at night. Even though these saviors are the soldiers that keep what lurks in the shadows at bay, we forget that they are victims too. He may be The Dark Knight, but deep down inside Batman will always be a traumatized little boy.
So why do we love them so much?
Our heroes in their time of suffering remind us that besides the gifts that make them who they are, mortality always binds us with them. We love the action in Daredevil,but we love the way they depict Matt Murdock in his most vulnerable moments. We love how The Green Arrow can defeat meta-humans like Deathstroke, but we love the occasional breaks in the wall whenever Oliver Queen sheds tears when he or someone he cares about pays a price for being a hero.
It's during these times that the characters become more than just fiction, they remind us about how real it can get for flesh and blood heroes who wear a uniform, carry a badge, or run into the flames. We come to appreciate the symbolism behind these superheroes as their burdens serve as reminders of the price that is paid on the battlefield.
Their suffering is what makes them more believable in our eyes. It's what keeps them human which is why we love seeing them suffer.