We’re used to seeing superheroes in many varieties of media, especially movies, comics, and videogames.
What these all have in common is that they all have us on the outside, looking in. We’re always watching, or reading, or controlling avatars of, superheroes. “They” are never “Us”.
Perhaps this makes sense if we take the concept of ‘Superhero’ completely literally: after all, many definitions of Superhero (though certainly not all) require the ownership of ‘Superpowers’, which are admittedly in short supply in our current world.
But I think this misses the point of being a superhero. Almost every definition of superhero also mentions the use of powers, or skills, or knowledge to make the world a better place.
If Superman decided that he wanted to be Clark Kent full-time, and never used his superpowers again, would we still call him a superhero? I don’t think so.
Conversely, we have no problem adding Batman, Hawkeye, Black Widow, or Green Arrow to any list of superheroes, even though none of them have a superpower. They use all of their skills and and abilities to make the world a better place.
So, we deduce that a superhero does not have to have superpowers, but they do have to step up to help the world. Hey! That definition could include any of us!
I’m heading up to Portland next week, to teach Superhero Basic Training at the Comic Con there. I’m excited, because IMHO there’s something missing at Comic Cons that I’m hoping to provide.
I’ve been to two Comic Cons previously, back when they were Wizard Worlds, one in Boston and one in Philadelphia. Perhaps things have changed in the six years since I’ve been to one, in which case I will eat my words, but I can sum up what’s missing:
People go to Comic Cons to dress like superheroes, to buy superhero stuff, to learn more about superheroes, to interact with actors who have played superheroes. But they don’t get to BE superheroes, and they don’t come out of the Con any more superheroic than they went in.
Maybe, you say, this is not a bug, it’s a feature. People don’t come to Comic Con to become superheroes, they come to be entertained! Perhaps, but I wonder if that’s because they don’t know that there’s any alternative? And what’s the alternative?
To BE a superhero rather than a viewer of superheroes.
I know, you say, this goes against the nature of us Americans: we’d rather watch sports than play them, complain about politicians rather than vote, watch porn rather than get into romantic relationships, and go to superhero movies to see extraordinary people accomplish extraordinary things rather than change the world.
But you know what? I don’t buy it. I think people are yearning to make a difference, to be extraordinary – especially those people going to a Comic Con. Thoughts?
Superhero Basic Training has been selected as one of the featured workshops at Portland Comic Con!
Full Title: Superhero Basic Training Workshop – Your Superpowers at Work
Date: Sunday, Jan 25 Time: 1:30 – 3pm Place: Oregon Convention Center, Room C123 (capacity 230)
Description: Sure, it’s easy to be a superhero at Comic Con, but what about outside of here, such as at work? How can you show up with all of your skills, talents and abilities to astound and even inspire co-workers? In this workshop, you’ll get the chance to explore what its like to ACT like a superhero in other parts of your life.
Be forewarned that this is an interactive workshop, not a panel or a presentation: don’t come expecting to be entertained (though you will be), come to this session because you want to learn something new about yourself and what it means to be a superhero in your own life.
Come in, do the work, have fun, change your life. ‘Nuff Said.
When I do a Superhero Team Training, one of the first questions is: “What is a Superhero?” There are many different definitions of a superhero. Here’s the Merriam-Webster version:
1 : a fictional character who has amazing powers (such as the ability to fly)
2 : a very heroic person
Now, definition (1) would exclude non-fictional characters, and those without amazing powers. This means that I (and, I’m assuming, you) wouldn’t qualify as a superhero.
The secondary definition is a little more interesting, even though they’re cheating a bit (yes, we know a superhero is heroic). It’s saying that being a superhero is more about character than about powers.
Whenever this topic comes up in trainings, I bring up “the Batman problem.” The problem is this: Batman (or Green Arrow or Black Widow or Hawkeye) has no superpowers. None. He has many wonderful toys, is in great shape, and has spent years honing his detective and combat skills, but he is never portrayed as anything more than human. And, he is considered one of the original superheroes (coming onto the scene just a few years after Superman).
So, if a superhero doesn’t necessarily have superpowers, then how do we define what a superhero is?
To cut to the chase, I was looking for a definition of superhero that would leave the door open for anyone who aspired to be a superhero to become one, and here’s what I’ve come up with:
“A Superhero is anyone who rises to the occasion, regardless of the difficulty, using all of their skills and abilities, to make the world a better place.”
We’ll unpack and discuss the ramifications of this definition in a future post.