“Take it from a man who never knew his father and never had a son: it’s that relationship that makes heroes.”
– Max Mellini,The Cape
The path to becoming a true hero is never an easy journey, and it is one that becomes much easier with a guide. The Mentor helps the Hero see the importance of being a superhero and what that really means.
Mentors are almost always wise old men who act as a father to the Hero (or actually are the Hero’s father). The father-son relationship captures all of the elements that are necessary in the Mentor-Hero relationship: the Hero must trust and respect the Mentor unconditionally, see his ideals as infallible, and wish to emulate him. The Hero follows the Mentor’s example and tries to be more like him.
The Mentor teaches the Hero how to be a superhero. This can include helping the Hero hone and improve his abilities, but that is usually only one part of the training. The main function of the Mentor is to pass on a code to the Hero, a way to deal with the responsibility of his abilities. The most obvious example is Uncle Ben from Spider-Man with his famous quote “With great power comes great responsibility.” This one line encompasses Peter’s entire view of his powers and changes the way he lives his life. Bruce Wayne combines the lessons of two Mentors in Batman Begins, his father, Thomas Wayne, and Ducard. Ducard teaches Bruce how to use his skills to become a crime fighter. However, it is Thomas who gives Bruce an example of what it means to be a hero. Thomas was a well-known philanthropist who donated his time and money to improve Gotham City as well as a father who gave his life trying to protect his family. Ducard only gives Bruce the means; Thomas gives him the way.
As important as it is for the Hero to learn from the Mentor’s example, it is also important for the Hero to learn from his Mentor’s flaws. No man is perfect, but the Hero is sometimes blind to this because of his filial adoration for the Mentor. This idea is taken to new heights in Smallville
, where the battle between Jonathan Kent and Jor-El has each harping on and on about the others flaws. However, this is exactly what Clark discovers to be wrong with them; they both are so quick to point out the other’s flaws that they never see their own. Clark becomes such a great hero because of his dual upbringing, not despite of it. He is able to combine the best parts of his Kryptonian and Earthly heritage and reject the worst. Similarly, Bruce refuses to kill, even when Ducard tells him it is necessary.
An unfortunate rule of the Superhero Film is that the Mentor must always die. Uncle Ben, Thomas Wayne, and Jack Murdock are all murdered. Jor-El died on Krypton while Jonathan Kent dies before Clark even joins the Daily Planet. Whistler, Ducard, and Big Daddy all meet their fate in the line of duty. Regardless of how it happens, the fact is that the Hero will not always have his Mentor around to rely on. The Hero is always motivated by his Mentor’s death, as it usually shows the Hero the consequences of ignoring the Mentor’s message.
The Mentor helps the Hero reach his full potential and become the best superhero he can be. The lessons the Mentor imparts are some of the most important lessons the Hero will ever learn. However, sometimes it is hard for the Hero to remember this, especially after the Mentor is gone. It is the Confidante’s job to reinforce these ideals and keep the Hero in line.