The Realization that all things need balance
The reason that comics both Super hero and other reality based, have become such a strong facet in our culture is because; in our sub conscience mind they fill a need to help us understand the impossibilities of the world around us.
Tell a Man that there are millions of stars in the universe each one holding the potential for life, amongst its countless orbiting planets, moons and satellites and he can accept this as sound logic and true. Put a wet paint sign on a park bench and he’ll have to touch it to be sure before he can believe you. For some reason the majority of our brains have developed in a fashion that requires proof for the tangible while leaps of faith allow us to accept the intangible in our lives.
In this fashion comic book stories take a harsh look at reality in which elements can be taken as truths much in the same way a Aesop’s fables might have been viewed thousands of years ago.
The Yin and the Yang.
Each great character and story features a struggle for equilibrium amongst the cast and even sometimes inside an individual player. Where our heroes fight to attain balance within them selves. Unlike the villains we love who more often then not embraces reckless abandon as if it were a soul mate and long lost lover, our heroes fight to tame the shadows inside themselves and struggles with conscience, keep them traveling down a noble path.
A Classic example of this dichotomy is James Howlett – The Wolverine. The character has suffered enormous loss through out his very long life, often due to his own actions. Aside from the massive body count of enemies Logan leaves in his wake, being the “Guy who isn’t afraid to do what is necessary” also self-professed the best at what he does even though what he does ain’t pretty, Logan has been responsible for the deaths of many of his loves as well. This trend started with his very own mother and repeated itself multiple times right up to the latest object of his affections in Jean Grey. This aspect of his life while causing him constant distress is also a driving factor in his striving for redemption.
Logan is prone to berserker rages, times when he is a living reaction – life is about survival and nothing else. Instinct takes over and he looses his ability to apply reason and logic. This does have its benefits mind you disciplined warriors often find it difficult to fight a man whose thought and reactions are one. One can’t anticipate technique when no style is being employed.
Conversely while visiting Japan Logan received training as a Samurai, which employs high technique, mental discipline and a sense of honor very different from the European Knightly Honor, most of us are familiar with. A Samurai has no personal honor; his life is spent in the service of his lord. Everything he does both positive and negative reflects on his lord. The worse crime a Samurai could commit would be to bring shame on his lord. Their devotion was so total that these shames might require acts of contrition as severe as voluntary suicide (Hari Kari) as a sign of acknowledgement of his transgressions and an attempt to make reparations..
These 2 archetypes dwelling within the same individual are what have made Wolverine one of Marvel’s most popular characters to date.
Aquaman is another example of balance at work. The King who would be Man, caught between the obligations of Royal life (and the luxury associated with it as well) as the King of Atlantis and the “carefree” existence of a hero though still bogged down with responsibility regardless as to which ever chair he sits in, never truly able to escape the guilt and pressures that come from either life. These are the pains of being a true hero.
The characters who aren’t perpetually tormented by their pasts, and have accepted to world around them for what it is rather than trying to redeem it, tend to be psychotic and a loss to their own convictions. “Never compromise, not even in the face of Armageddon”. This was one of Rorschach’s most memorable lines from the Watchman mini series in the 80’s. And while these types might be entertaining, a mini-series is the best venues for them to show case their abilities.
The only conflict left in Rorschach’s heart lie in his inability the punish more of the scum and dirt wandering the streets. He has abandoned his humanity in order to deal with the criminals on their level.
In short internal conflict, a sub-conscience desire for balance has driven mans legends from the dawn of time, and while times may change our un-conscience desire for the familiar pulls us to superhero’s as it once pulled us the story of Robin Hood, the gallant tales of the Knights of King Arthur’s Court or the Odyssey’s of the Greek Gods, because the essence of all these fables ring true today. Heroes may stumble and fall in their journey through a life filled with conflict, but they always get up again. Something that we all hope to be able to do ourselves when confronted with adversity.
Inspired from Chapter 1 of The Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes.