We all know about the wonderful worlds of DC™ and Marvel™ comics, with their plethora of superheroes. I certainly used to love getting the comics when I was a kid, especially the genuine US-printed ones, with all that colour! I had my favourites, and there were some I didn’t like. I was a total fan of the X-men (Wolverine Rules!) but The Amazing Spider-Man bored me silly with all his teen angst. If I’d ever demonstrated an ability to draw people, I would certainly have had a go at creating my own comic. The superhero was just so cool! But, did the superhero originate in the comics? The simple answer is a categorical No.
Whenever an author has created characters of anything like heroic proportions, they have been something more than real heroes. They have been faster to heal, quicker in mind and/or body, just plain superior. Sherlock Holmes has a superior intellect. Jason (of Argonauts fame) was favoured by both a goddess and a witch, letting him achieve fantastic feats. Sinbad was larger than life, with luck that defies explanation. Tarzan was honed to superhuman perfection of body and senses. Literature down through the ages is littered with superheroes. And we’re still doing it!
The current trend for vampire stories is evidence of our need for something superior in a character. The original, Count Dracula, wasn’t good, and it was quite clear that he, and those that followed, were undeniably evil. And then Joss Whedon created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in the TV series of which, the idea of a vampire with a soul was born, in the form of Angel. A new kind of hero was created. That which had been evil suddenly underwent a transformation. And an eager audience (not all of them teenagers) were desperate for more. Soon, ‘good’ vampires were popping up all over, particularly in “YA Paranormal” fiction, but also bleeding over into the world of movies and television. A dark, brooding superhero type was let loose.
Older types of superhero still appear, of course. The extra-intelligent individuals. Those with psychic powers, natural or engendered. Action heroes who can defeat small armies. And the comic books are still there, in greater numbers than ever. Naturally, the superheroes are balanced by supervillains, but we all know who will win the day. Even when the supervillain is the ‘star’, there’s no certainty that they will actually do evil, or that they don’t have a ‘good’ nemesis. Basically, the formula remains.
I wonder if this will ever change? Somehow, I doubt it. Personally, I’m glad about that.