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How Superman and other heroes save the world

india Updated: Jul 03, 2006 15:50 IST

Superman's spectacular return to celluloid this summer capitalises on mankind's secret desire for larger than life heroes and their world-saving antics.

One of the most popular and enduring forms of art, comic books have the power to zoom their central characters right off their pages on to the silver screen. Last year, there were the due instalments from Batman and Spiderman.

Superman merely clinches the climax to a global audience's yearning to escape into a fantasy world manned by people of superhuman strength. But what is the secret behind these hero's enduring appeal? On one level, comic book heroes are just good men featuring in action stories.

But look deeper and Batman becomes a metaphor for adults working out childhood traumas, Superman is an immigrant symbol, Spiderman represents a typical adolescent turning into a responsible man and the X-Men series reflects the civil rights movements of the 60s.

The superheroes' appeal follows the creators' use of folklore and cultural motifs. The creators may create new historical contexts, heroes and villains but they also depend heavily on folklore structures to develop their narratives.

Some of the common traits of the superheroes are that they are introspective, concerned and even obsessed with exploring their identity and have to redeem their own past.

Another overarching theme is the battle with evil and this has been a huge topic throughout.  Batman, who was born around 1939, has been the most prominent of all superheroes holding a timeless appeal for teenage boys.

Comic books create a comfortable space for the reader to explore vexing issues. Heroes become alter egos. Superhero archetypes are there to connect reality to myth, the real world to the mythical world, and in the process to clarify issues of general and human concern.