What Makes a Hero a Superhero?

A recent YouTube video by Diversity in Comics got me thinking. In his video, he claims that both Indiana Jones and James Bond are super heroes, which I completely disagree with. But then I started thinking about comic book characters. Are there comic book heroes who aren’t super heroes? Here’s DIC’s video. I’ll talk about my opposite viewpoint below it.

What is the difference between a hero and a super hero? Here’s a question: What makes Batman a super hero? Nothing. Batman started out as a detective. Similarly, the Joker is not a super villain, though some would argue he is a superb villain. Even Superman could be considered a science fiction hero, especially as he was portrayed in Man of Steel, though I’d tend to call him a super hero due to the fact that he would not have had his powers on Krypton.

What about Iron Man? Isn’t he just a science fiction hero? Similarly, Guardians of the Galaxy’s heroes are not super. GOTG is space opera. Thor was originally a super hero (a man who, when he took up the hammer, became supernaturally strong), but in the redacted books that inspired the movies, he has become a science fiction character.

As in anything, there are gray areas. Are the X-men superheroes, or science fiction characters? What about the Fantastic 4? I would argue they are both super heroes. The reason? They both have miraculous powers. I can buy a mutant gene like the one in The Breeds of Man as science fiction, but not one that assigns random powers to people. Similarly, I can get behind an alien that absorbs humans like The Thing, but not radiation that gives people random super powers.

Another case is that of Doctor Strange. Is the book fantasy, or is the character a super hero? I’d argue that it is fantasy. There are plenty of pure fantasy novels (like Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files) in which a character has similar magical abilities, and no one considers those books super hero novels. The same reasoning applies to Hellblazer and Preacher.

OK, what about Watchmen? Only Doctor Manhattan comes close to being super. Night Owl is another Batman/Ironman. All the other characters are completely mundane. Only Manhattan has a super power. That someone could survive being vaporized and reconstitute himself might be mere fantasy, but the powers he has afterward push him over the edge into superherodom.

Why is this at all important? To misquote The Incredibles, if all heroes are super, then none of them are. Heroes are not normal people. They are larger than life, like Indiana Jones or James Bond. Don’t devalue the terms super hero and hero by calling all heroes super heroes.

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About jimbelton

I'm a software developer, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and I blog about movies, books, and philosophy. My interest in religious philosophy and the search for the truth inspires much of my writing.
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