Heroes Never Rust #2 by Sean Ironman
Why is Batman a Superhero but James Bond isn’t?
One of the inaccuracies about superheroes I’ve found is that all comic book heroes are superheroes. Since the sixties, superhero comics have been the most popular genre in the comics industry. People forget comic books are not just superheroes, and superheroes are not just comic books. Today, I’m not interested in going down what created this issue or trying to get non-comic readers interested. One of the issues with people equating comic books with superheroes is that the definition of superheroes gets blurred. What is a superhero? It sounds like a question with an easy answer at first, but it’s much more complex than it looks.
The initial answer many people think of is that a superhero has superpowers. Flight. Telekinesis. Super-strength. Telepathy. Teleportation. Healing factor. Duplication. Even power negation. But a quick look at the superhero canon refutes that idea. One of the most popular superheroes of all time is Batman, who has no superhero powers. Then, we have Iron Man, Hawkeye, Steel, Huntress, etc. These are heroes that are highly trained and have access to some pretty cool toys, but they don’t have powers. So what makes them superheroes? Are they even superheroes?
While I do think some characters that people refer to as superheroes are not superheroes (Just the other day, I overheard someone refer to Nick Fury as a superhero), I do believe Batman and Iron Man are superheroes. Some people might say, well Iron Man has a powerful, high-tech suit, and Batman has the Batcave filled with cool gadgets. But if Batman is a superhero, then why isn’t a character like James Bond?
Like Batman, James Bond has cool gadgets, fights crime, and is an orphan. His parents died in a mountain climbing accident in the French Alps instead of being gunned down in an alley in Gotham City, but it would’ve still been traumatic. Actually, I’d say James Bond is saner than Batman, that’s one difference. But most superheroes are sane, so regardless of whether they’re insane or not, a character can still be a superhero.
I’ve heard some people argue that characters like Batman and Iron Man are superheroes because they are super smart. I don’t buy it. Being smarter than the average person doesn’t make a person a superhero. Although, now that I think about it, most superheroes seem to be very intelligent. But that’s not why they’re superheroes. Is a Princeton graduate or an MIT graduate a superhero? They’re incredibly smart, and nothing against those schools, but being smart doesn’t make someone a superhero. Plus, why do you think someone like Batman is smart? Could it be that because of his family’s money and connections that he was able to attend great schools and get great tutors? The same with Iron Man. Superheroes are superheroes regardless of whether they’re in the upper class or middle class.
Now, one could argue, and the pessimist in me does, that superheroes aren’t real. Tell that to Superheroes Anonymous, who cleaned Times Square and helped the homeless, or Phoenix Jones. Superheroes are as real as anything else.
Well, how do Batman and James Bond go about fighting crime and saving people? Batman protects Gotham. James Bond protects the British Empire. Both protect the world. But this is where they start to differ. Batman works on his own accord. James Bond works for the British government. Both have their crossovers. Batman helps out the Justice League and the police. James Bond goes off on his own, like in Quantum of Solace. But when Batman helps out another organization, he does so because a villain threatens people. When James Bond went AWOL in Quantum of Solace, he was seeking revenge.
I don’t believe there’s a firm definition of a superhero, not one that encompasses every superhero. (The versatility of the superhero concept is something I’ll be exploring from time to time with this blog.) But something that shows up again and again, is the idea that a superhero, in order to protect those he or she swore to protect, must have no oversight. They can’t work under someone else’s thumb. A superhero does what they feel is right, not just for them, usually it’s worse, but for others. The “super” in Superman doesn’t refer to the external traits of the character—It refers to the internal. A superhero rises above their basic instincts to help society as a whole, not just individuals. A superhero doesn’t just save their family. In a way, they don’t just save lives, but inspire. Back in the Golden Age of comics, Superman took on corrupt landlords. He even killed back then. Superheroes do what’s right regardless of their own feeling and whatever organization they’re associated with.
I wonder if it’s possible for a character to be a superhero and only do work for the government or for another group. Is the Superman that takes on Batman in The Dark Knight Returns a superhero? No, I wouldn’t say. He’s a government stooge in that story. Captain America fought for the U.S. in World War II, but I tend to think of him as a Super Soldier in that time, and a superhero when he joined the Avengers in the ’60s, an Avengers that unlike the movie version didn’t work for an organization. Just a few years ago, Captain America fought against superheroes getting registered and becoming part of the government in Marvel’s Civil War.
Are all superheroes, like the comics scene, punk? I think they exist to do what normal people can’t. They’ll fight against anyone and everyone for what’s right. What do you think? What makes a superhero a superhero?
Sean Ironman is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida, where he also serves as Managing Editor of The Florida Review and as President of the Graduate Writers’ Association. His art has appeared online at River Teeth. His writing can be read in Breakers: An Anthology of Comics and Redivider.