One of the first superheroes to walk the surface of Earth was Heracles (known to most as Hercules), a demigod born out of the communion of Zeus, the thunder god of ancient Greeks (and the ruler of the Olympians) and the mortal woman Alcmene. Throughout his life, he suffers from persecution by the jealous goddess Hera and enjoys the support of both Athena, his half-sister, and Zeus, his father, while taking on a number of monsters, villains, and kings. He is remembered as an epitome of masculinity – he is large, strong, attractive, a symbol of courage and ingenuity. He used these traits well during his labours, the most famous stories that were retold countless times over the centuries.
The ancient times had their own heroes, and so do ours, but our heroes come in different forms: as comic books and movie characters. We’ve talked about how much the Greek Gods have in common with the Justice League before. But modern heroes have something else in common with those from times past: they represent virtue as opposed to vice, good as opposed to evil, they are often benevolent to the point of sacrificing their own welfare and happiness for the greater good. And those who don’t aren’t even called “heroes”, even if they are the characters to root for in stories – the term “antihero” was invented to cover these.
Most of the time, superheroes come with an evil counterpart. Thor, one of today’s most popular movie characters thanks to his important role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, represents selflessness and bravery as opposed to Loki, his adoptive brother, who is jealous, deceitful, and power-hungry. His weapon of choice is the Mjölnir, a mystical hammer that can only be wielded by those worthy of it, showing the same values as Thor himself. The scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron, where none of the heroes present could lift it (except for Vision) makes you wonder: are you worthy to lift Thor’s hammer or would it stay stuck to the table if you tried?
The ultimate expression of human values in the comic books – and movies – of our time is Superman. He himself is a godlike creature: he is invulnerable, he can fly, he is extremely strong and fast. And he uses his powers to help humanity overcome many threats, from petty criminals to monsters and villains ready to take over the world. And he never killed anyone (in the main Superman universe at least) – even in Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, the movie that brought Supes a little closer to the average human, the terrorist survived as confirmed by director Zack Snyder after the film’s release. He is humanity’s ultimate champion, the modern man’s vision of the ultimate ideal, the polished, acceptable version of Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Ubermensch” if you like. He always stood for justice, truth, peace, social justice, and other laudable causes over his “lifetime”. Like Hercules, he became the ideal man for his time – even if in this case, the ideals have more to do with morals and self-sacrifice than raw strength and seduction.