A pair of posts from my Marvel blog of long ago attempting to define what a super hero is.
Because we always get a good response whenever I pose a question to the group, I’ve got a new topic to throw out to all of you. This question came up within the last night or two on a Mailing List I’m a part of, and I knew immediately that it was the sort of thing we’d have some fun wrestling with. I can recall Mark Gruenwald grappling with this issue and failing to find an answer that worked completely, so don’t feel bad if you can’t wrap your heads around it totally.
So…I’d like to see if we can come up with a working definition of what comprises a super hero.
It’s a trickier question than it appears at first glance. I mean, we all sort of know what and who is or is not a super hero when we see them, don’t we? And yet, coming up with a definition that fits all cases is elusive. I think we can all agree that Superman and Spider-Man are super heroes. Is Batman? Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Doc Savage? James Bond? Captain Kirk? Santa Claus? Blade? What are the defining characteristics that qualify a particular character as a super hero?
Is it superhuman powers? A costume? A particular sort of heroic mission? The sorts of enemies that you face? Or something else entirely, or a combination of all of these factors?
I?m afraid that my conversation starter yesterday was somewhat misinterpreted by most of the people who answered. I expect this is my fault, for titling the post “Definition of a Hero.” What I was looking for wasn’t a definition of heroism itself, but a definition of what quantifies a given fictional character as a super hero–what attributes does a super hero possess, and could we come up with a functioning set of parameters that would include all of the obvious candidates, but disallow (or determine, in cases where there might be cause for disagreement) characters who aren’t super heroes.
So that’s the problem that I’d like to see you all tackle.
In the meantime, here’s a nice letter concerning Marvel?s 70th Anniversary that I received today.
Dear Everybody at Marvel,
I have been an avid reader of Marvel books since 1963, so that makes me a 46 year anniversary. Not only congratulations to all on staff and to all past contributors to the company, but, I’d just like to leave my thoughts on a few subjects.
When Stan Lee first started writing super hero books, the stories were compressed but very poignant, because you could see the significance to the characters and the situations, and film noir style that Stan wrote in. Today, the decompressed styles of Bendis and Brubaker allow the creators to open out a plot and fill in all the spaces that Stan used to leave up to the imaginations of the readers.
We have seen a explosion of change in the art work and styles, especially through the likes of Steranko and Liefeld, until the more subdued styles of McKone and Maleev. The textures of the books have changed from newspaper to gloss smoothness, and the colouring has been exemplary from spotty bold coloured, to brush strokes like Sotomayor, because of the printing improvements.
Since the Icons of Kirby and Ditko, Lee and Thomas to the kings of Millar and Brubaker, McNiven and Finch, Marvel have kept the style and the continuity that is a hallmark in the industry and that has conserved the icon characters over the whole of the Silver Age. Even the greats of the Golden Age, in Kirby and Simon, with Cap, Namor and the Human Torch, down through the leaner cowboy and monster eras, where science fiction was the intrigue for the the youth of the day, the quality of the writing and art hadn’t wavered.
As a stalwart fan of your books, I give you my humble thanks for all the team effort of editors, writers, artists, managers, and publicationists. Through the ups and downs of publishing and keeping the company afloat, you have done a wonderful job of keeping the ship sailing, on course, and with a good heading. Well done to you all.
Thanks for writing, John!