It’s a term that is often thrown around freely without consideration of where the label is placed. Musical artists are called heroes. Why? Because they can sing?! Doesn’t take much bravery to belt out a note. Athletes are known for their “heroic” efforts. Did they do something that amazing or just score a few points?
People go to the latest restaurant and leave with sentiment like “That food is to die for.” Yeah, your country and your family are worthy of death. That plate of grub was just a steak with mashed potatoes. Ease up, Patton.
For some reason, it took comic books for people to place that obscure word into perspective. Superheroes have been around since the 1930s. When America went to war, so did artists. Most famously, in 1941, when Captain America punched Hitler right in the mush in bold color for the world to enjoy.
While our brave men and women were storming the beaches of Normandy, sacrificing their lives so we could enjoy another day of freedom, the rest of this nation was sitting idly by in their own imagination. We couldn’t see the war relief, so two guys named Jack Kirby and Joe Simon put their heads together to imagine what that action would — or should — look like.
And Captain America was born.
…So was the country’s attachment to a super hero.
The 1970s got here and we were told that “You believe a man can fly.” While George Reeves set a campy standard and Henry Cavill was born to be Kal-El, Christopher Reeve is — and will always be — Superman.
When Reeve dawned those tights, America wanted amusement. The time was about relief. Political tensions. Corrupt people in the White House. Discord everywhere on TV. We were looking for fantasy, an escape. So, we found a man who could fly.
And then September 11, 2001 at 8:46 a.m., then again at 9:03 a.m. happened. This country gained a new perspective of what a hero really was.
Our heroes were no longer in blue spandex flying in the sky. They were wearing blue uniforms running into a building. They were paramedics and pilots, firefighters and reservists, and every branch of the military.
We cheer for our superheroes but on that day, we saluted our real heroes. The men and women who inspired Captain America and Wonder Woman to be who they were created to be showed us all why.
Only once those cowards flew a plane into a building, not even Superman could fly in and save the day. Our heroes needed to become more tangible, more visual, more real.
America needed the heart of innocence, the soul of a warrior, and the toughness of a nation. But how can you capture all of that to give this country the escape it so desperately needed?
The Twin Towers falling from apogee was a sight few of us will ever cease to not see around this time of the year. Imagine what it was like in 2002?! A release was needed for a country that almost felt guilty searching for one.
That’s when the movies rolled out the red carpet, opened its doors, and turned on a big screen for escape and amusement to more than 1.64 billion people spending more than $9.2 billion at the box office.
And what brought people to the movies more than any other? Another super hero.
Spider-Man raked in the highest domestic growth of 2002. Why? Look at his eyes? What was in his vision was in our hearts. We needed someone to protect us. Someone to understand us. Even if he was fictitious, it had to feel real.
Remember: the heart of innocence, the soul of a warrior, and the toughness of a nation.
Since that day, our superheroes have seemed more realistic. They are flawed but powerful. They are dynamic but riddled with pain. They are super and often, a tragic hero.
We need someone that could possibly be lurking in the dark, soaring in the sky, or somewhere hiding in plain sight. All of our heroes are like that these days, when you think about it.
Some of us don’t salute the flag or applaud our first responders, largely because of the foolish and sometimes, brutal mistakes of a few. What we see on TV isn’t all that’s out there. Take what Jack Kirby and Joe Simon did.
We didn’t know what to think, so two people with enough imagination for all of us gave us a picture. In 2001, we needed imagination again, and we got a boy bit by a spider.
Today, remember that it is often the smallest of things that make the biggest of differences. On days where we need solace like this, look for our real heroes to be super.
And despite the asinine kerfuffle over brands, let’s all agree on this:
Avengers: Infinity War may have been the most successful. The Dark Knight may be the GOAT. Donner’s Superman and Burton’s Batman may have set the standard.
But when this nation was at its most vulnerable, its weakest, we turned to a child to defend New York and save a nation. That child is in all of us, like it was on 9/11.
Never forget where the real heroes are. Never, ever forget.