Edgy Mama: Superhero life lessons

“Sister said I’m not a superhero!”

That was the shout that awoke me at 5:45 the other morning. My 6-year-old son then crawled into bed with me, despondent, because his big sister just doesn’t understand his need for superpowers.

His superpowers change daily, but usually consist of one of the following: super strength, super speed, X-ray vision, and the amorphous ability to save the world and punish bad guys.

Of course, we’d all like to save the world, but, for some reason, this desire is hard-wired into my son, and, I’ve observed, in many other boys around his same age. My daughter likes the idea of superpowers, but is primarily interested in them if they can help her in a concrete fashion—like helping her avoid her chores or helping her see through walls so she can tell whether or not her boy next door might be able to come over and play.

When my son plays with his friends (almost always other boys) they dress up in caped costumes, make “ka-boom” and “zzzztzzz” sound effects, and create intricate, sometimes violent, fantasies pitting good against evil.

When you’re small, not very strong and not able to do many of the tasks that the adults around you accomplish easily, it must be empowering to imagine that you’re a fearless superhero able to overcome any obstacle in your path. When you can’t tie your sneakers, the idea of jumping over a tall building in a single bound must be irresistible.

As someone who grew up with all sisters, I don’t quite get my son’s obsession with superheroes. And I sometimes worry about the whole violence/techno weaponry/beating up bad guy story lines. I also want to make sure that my boy can differentiate between his fantasy world and the real one.

However, as I’ve learned more about superheroes, I’ve realized there are some important lessons my little guy can learn from them:

Superheroes typically have a strong moral code and sense of responsibility. They do good because it’s the right thing to do, without reward or even the expectation of reward (Superman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman). Typically, they vanquish rather than kill their foes (why those arch-villians keep on coming back). There are exceptions, like Batman, who is personal vendetta dude, but I think after he avenged his parents, he made the decision to keep the work up out of a sense of moral responsibility to Gotham.

Superheroes often maintain secret identities, but only in order to protect their friends and family from the the bad guys. They’re not doing this for glory, and, in fact, having to hide their alter egos from friends can be awkward and frustrating (Lois Lane and Clark Kent).

Superheroes don’t sit around watching TV or playing video games. They are out there, in the community, making the world a better place. To do that they have to stay in tip-top shape.

Even if they work alone (Batman), superheroes have friends, family or a team that supports them (Alfred Pennyworth). Often, they do form alliances or work in teams (Fantastic Four, Justice League).

They typically have a secret hiding place or headquarters where they go to recoup, recover and prepare for the next adventure (the Batcave, Superman’s Fortress of Solitude). Even superheroes need a place to take a time-out and rest.

They get to wear kick-ass costumes that accentuate their work-out enhanced bodies. And, with the exception of the Incredible Hulk, superheroes are almost always well-groomed and they always put on a clean costume if the one they’re wearing gets dirty (or blood-spattered).

As he gets older, and my boy’s superhero obsession wanes, I hope we can take the lessons he’s learned and apply them to real-life heroes—those who don’t necessarily have superpowers or high-end gadgets (or rock-hard abs), but who, like Superman, have a sense of justice and moral responsibility that guides their actions in the world.

Anne Fitten Glenn is a freelance writer based in Asheville. She covers a number of topics (including parenting) on her blog, www.EdgyMama.com.

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33 thoughts on “Edgy Mama: Superhero life lessons

  1. I still wish I was a super hero. I was speaking with someone a few weeks ago, and we decided that the moral lessons taught by Jack Kirby are just as powerful and relevant as those taught in a bible.

    So relax, your kid is on a good path. Look how I turned out.

  2. Bugg: No fooling. I still have moments where I lament not having a superpower. Even a lame one (like Cypher’s, for instance). Part of it is a power-trip thing, sure, but I think an equal part is having some crystal-clear purpose in life.

    Not to derail Anne Fitten’s greater point, but which powers do you wish you had in daily life? (I’m tempted to say Wolverine’s, but the more practical part of me is thinking Professor X.)

  3. I’d like to have Superman’s powers. It’s a nice little combo of speed, strength, cool visions and breaths. My only weaknesses being magic and a rare rock would be cool also.

    I’m not that industrious, however. So I can’t imagine feeling compelled enough to want to fight crime. I’d probably just do stuff to impress people around town in hopes to get an endorsement deal.

  4. Being Big Blue would be pretty cool. That said, I can’t say I ever felt much connection with the character. He’s too god-like for me to really relate to. (It’s like in Segal’s “It’s a Bird,” where he can’t write a Superman story because there’s just no “in” for him.)

    That’s kind of how I feel about most DC characters (except for Batman and the pre-Kevin Smith version of Green Arrow). I’m more of a Marvel guy.

  5. So my boy’s going to grow up to be like Bugg and Shanafelt…

    I’d, personally, like to get hold of Wonder Woman’s magic lasso. And her red boots.

  6. Well, if he’s pushing 30 and still talking about cartoon musclemen in tights hitting each other for reasons that could really be worked out better in a group therapy session, then you can worry. Chances are, however, that he’ll take up a nice, mainstream-approved obsession with sports before you know it.

  7. As far as I’m concerned, there was no third “X-Men” movie. It was just a really bad sequel to “Money Talks.”

    Good superhero pick though. You get telepathy and telekinesis, not to mention the power to make fanboys drool. But, are you talking Marvel Girl-era Jean Grey, or Phoenix-era? This distinction is staggeringly important.

  8. summer

    I always identified with Rogue… even though her power was perhaps the coolest and the biggest PIA. Plus, she had the HOTT Cajun boy. Yummy.

  9. tatuaje

    woo-hoo….Spidey!. (almost the Flash) always thought the web-slinger was the most approachable, the easiset to identify with….

    By the way Edgy Mama, your column is my new guilty pleasure. My friends, the 2 I’ve had the nerve to tell, think it’s hysterical that I read your column religously…Always insightful and good for at least one out-loud laugh…

  10. Summer: Indeed. Particularly after she took on Ms. Marvel’s powers and became one of the more powerful fighters in the series. And, from the moral angle, she’s a great example of a “bad” character who becomes good because she realizes that without help she’ll spiral out of control.

    Tatuaje: Spider-Man is pretty cool. He’s kind of like the Job of the Marvel Universe, always having his commitment tested.

    And don’t feel too embarrassed about digging Edgy Mama’s column. I used to read her pre-Xpress work on a regular basis when I was living the lonely bachelor life.

  11. Edgy Mama

    Thanks, Tatuaje, for the lovely feedback. I’m hoping that those who currently are child-free can at least remember enough about their own childhoods to identify with some of my verbiage.

    Shanafelt, when are you gonna start breeding? I might need a guest columnist every once in a while!

  12. Winter

    I tied for being The Green Lantern and Iron Man.

    I was always a Marvel guy, so I don’t know so much about the Green Lanterns. I’m stuck thinking about Iron Man though.. I scored as a “Tony Stark” jeeez, this can’t be a good thing.

  13. Marvel characters are pretty, but that’s about all there is to them. DC characters have a wonderful mythology that somehow resonates more as I get older. I aspire to be a Hal Jordan type, but all I end up being is Guy Gardner.

  14. I love that we have both Summer and Winter in the same comment thread.

    Steve, you don’t need to stop reading comic books to become a parent. In fact, I think it helps keep you in touch with your inner kid!

  15. Bugg: Here is where we diverge. Marvel characters are universally flawed people, and I think that makes them more interesting. Not one of them is without some personality glitch that keeps them rooted in some attempt at reality. Even uber-goodies like Spider-Man constantly struggle with things like day-jobs, and are pained by the problems that come with their costumes.

    DC characters are just the opposite. They’re mythological in scale, sure, but they’re also cartoonish. With a handful of exceptions (Batman’s crew and Green Arrrow, mostly), they’re all perfect people doing good deeds for little reason other than it being the right thing to do.

    I’ve always had trouble with that.

    Winter: An egocentric playboy with drinking problems and a bad heart? What’s not to like? At least you get a fancy suit.

  16. Maybe that’s why they are great, because they don’t need a reason to do good, they just do it.

    I think that this is the only thread on the website that doesn’t feature Gordon Smith calling Bill Russell a real estate candidate. Success!

  17. Gordon Smith

    For Jason –

    Bill Russell is supported primarily by real estate and Republican interests. It’s actually true about the supervillain thing, too, but I don’t have my photographic evidence handy.

  18. Enviro-Spouse

    Big news, Edgy Mama.

    You are married to Spiderman, who, as you know, is:
    “intelligent, witty, a bit geeky and has great power and responsibility.”

  19. brebro

    That’s very optimistic to assume that as your son gets older, his superhero obsession will wane, I’m still waiting for mine to!

    My son just turned 14 and I have to TRY to get him as interested in superheroes as I am. We do enjoy watching the excellent JLA/JLU dvd episodes of the now-cancelled Cartoon Network series and the other DC/Marvel based tv shows and movies, but I still can’t get him as interested in reading the comics as he is in reading about Halo or Naruto.

    Sigh, I guess with Manga and Animé taking over, the old school tights and capes heroes are relegated to the old folks now. Maybe that’s where all the fanboy consumer money propelling these increasingly frequent comic book adapted blockbuster films is coming from, but surely, someone under 30 must still find them enjoyable.

    Steve, I think if you picked up a modern DC comic, you would see that the characters have been given much deeper and intricate story lines and personalities what with events in Identity Crisis and the Omac Project and 52 having the characters, (even the big three) DC icons dealing with issues of rape, death, government mistrust, cancer, homosexuality, fascism and murder.

    I like Marvel AND DC, but I agree with Jason about the rich history that DC draws on to update and make more relevant even their most ludicrous old characters. I stopped reading comics when our daughter was born about 18 years ago, so I missed all of the decade of the 90s, but have recently gotten back to picking up some trade paperbacks and have found them quite compelling, you should give them a second chance.

  20. Gourmet Grrl

    I am The Green Lantern. “Hot-headed. You have strong will power and a good imagination.” No surprise there.
    But can I eat whole pies in a single bound? Can a make a chili to knock down bad guys who stand in my way? That’s what I want to know.

  21. Brebro: Oh, don’t get me wrong, I still read DC. I thought “52” was pretty good, and I’ve read bits and pieces of various DC storylines over the years. And I certainly don’t mean to imply that DC comics are without depth. It’s just that I’ve always found them a bit broad and symbolic for my tastes. (Although, without DC, there’d be no “Astro City,” which is definitely one of my favorites.)

    It’s funny you bring up manga, as a lot of comic fans can’t stand stuff like “One Piece” or “Bleach” to the point of not including them in the same genre. I had a touch of that view until local comic creator Will Murray convinced me to read “Dragon Ball.” Now, I’m hooked.

    “Naruto” is even kind of fun, although I draw the line at “Yu-Gi-Oh,” as it seems like little more than an extended print ad for the trading card game.

    But those series — with the possible exception of “Dragon Ball” — do seem to lack the same iconic mythology of the DC and Marvel universes.

  22. brebro

    Oops, okay I thought you may have been out of the loop as I have been, if you have been reading then I’m not telling you anything new.

    I will, in the DC heroes defense, however, note that they have been around since the 30s and 40s and Marvel’s iconoclasts came about in the status quo-bucking 60s, so there’s probably good reason the DC characters may seem larger than life and less real but if Wonder Woman seems too god-like, it probably can’t be helped that she pretty much is a goddess from mythical origins (not that different from the mighty Thor at Marvel) and you can’t have godlike powers like Superman without coming off as such.

    But Batman is as regular a guy as a multibillionaire who lives above a cave can be! Okay, he doesn’t have to eek out a paycheck and agonize over beating up friends turned into monstrous villains (whether they have turned into lizards or man-bats), like Spiderman, but I prefer to think that it is not because he is any less a real person than Peter Parker but just that he is not such a big pussy. ; )

    I haven’t been exposed enough to any manga to hate it or form an opinion about it either way, but I was more commenting about the way it and the other Japan-styled entertainment seems to have displaced the more traditional superhero type comics as the preeminent entertainment for kids of a certain age and how that made me a bit sad since I always thought of these characters as timeless. When my son was into Yu-Gi-Oh (which he now disavows) it made no sense at all to me and when he watches Naruto I can’t get past the lyrics to the theme song which, hilariously, must have lost something in translation.

  23. chakru

    mm yes everybody wants to be a super hero but the truth is in life there are no super heros only normal peoples all over. But we can always dream of making this place a better one without being a super hero. If you can do that then you are the real super hero without any special powers but definitely with some power to change.

  24. Jason Bugg

    You mean like morphing into some sort of hero? Like Billy Batson did when he said Shazam!

  25. Naruto Wallpaper

    @ Brebo
    Naruto is an excellent anime and manga and I highly recommend watching others like it:

    One Piece
    Shaman King

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