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How superheroes save the world

Comic books create a space for the reader to explore vexing or tormenting issues with superheroes becoming our alter egos.

india Updated: Jul 03, 2006 15:45 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.

Comic books, one of the most popular and enduring forms of art, 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 a comic book 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 60's.

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.

Batman is a metaphor for adults working out childhood traumas

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.

Sherlock Holmes to a large extent solved crimes before they happened, but comic books focus on crimes that have already happened and the concept of apt revenge.

The action is not thought out or premeditated. Just like all things American, the action is a pure response to a 'barbarous' act.

Symbolism from folklore has been so intelligently packaged that it does not interfere with the fantasy element for even the most avid fan.

Comic books create a comfortable space for the reader to explore vexing or tormenting issues. Heroes become alter egos playing out the audience's deeper desires, fighting evil forces and nature's fury single-handed.

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.