Heroes of the Media
In our popular imagination, heroes and villains are almost always men. However, there have been many heroes throughout history. Our genealogy will readily show that we owe much of our knowledge about heroes to our country’s role in creating those characters. For example, one of the most prominent superheroes of all time was Superman, and his secret identity as Clark Kent was kept a closely guarded secret for decades, even by his own family. This gave way to intense public interest when, after his death, Superman was supposedly shown to be super-strong, and he was indeed the strongest Superman ever known.
Heroes, on the other hand, are defined by the characteristics that make them unique, such as courage, hatred, or purity. A hero is a human or a fictional character who, against insurmountable odds, compels others to do extraordinary things, through feats of courage, cunning, or strength, oftentimes against overwhelming odds. As opposed to the villains, who generally accomplish their goals by means of violence or the threat of violence, heroes are usually portrayed as benevolent, honorable, and self-sacrificing. Since early childhood, most children associate heroes with moral goodness and heroic behavior. On the other hand, since childhood is typically a period of high stress and anxiety, heroes are often regarded as role models and beloved by young people, inspiring them to emulate their heroes’ good behaviors.
There are several types of heroes. The superman of Smallville is an extreme example, with every fan assuming that Superman is a hero by definition. However, the writers of the TV series Smallville, along with the producers of the movie version, have taken Superman, and his alter ego, Clark Kent, to new heights of reality by heavily dramatizing the persona of Clark Kent and the sacrifices that he makes for humanity, both literally and metaphorically. In the comics, Superman has become an avatar for younger viewers who identify with his optimistic optimism, while Supergirl and the Justice League: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes further emphasize the young audience’s hero motif.
Many modern heroes have undergone significant changes over time. Batman, for example, has undergone an emotional makeover in recent years, becoming more cynical and brooding than ever before. In the New Batman films, the dark, brooding hero has undergone a transformation, making him more human and more heroic. Likewise, as in any kind of change, there have been examples of heroes who have been reduced to symbols and archetypes, such as Wonder Woman, who has been reduced to being a superwoman (in the comic book), or Superman, who has become just another man (in the movies).
Hector and Achilles were two Classical heroes who embody the characteristics of great heroes. In both stories, the young prince suffers at the hands of a cruel and treacherous stranger, who befriends Achilles’ mother, Agamemnon. Although the Greeks later attempted to distance Achilles’ mother from her son’s path by making her the Queen of the Iliad, it was too late, as the Greeks themselves became his enemies. Achilles eventually dies, at the hands of the Trojan prince Paris.
Modern writers, however, have tried to give the same qualities of classic heroes to contemporary heroes. Harry Potter is arguably the best-known fictional hero to come from the modern era. His adventures have won the hearts of millions of young readers (and the attention of many adults, as well), and have introduced readers to characters with a strong belief in the power of magic and invisibility. In the series, Tom Riddle is a normal, good-hearted boy who becomes a successful young hero and a beloved and powerful witch, defeating the most dangerous villains and foils throughout the story. The Twilight Saga gives readers a peek into Bella Swan’s thoughts after she falls in love with a vampire who becomes a major threat to her world. On television, Supergirl has become famous for fighting villains such as Metallo and Killer Frost, while Batman has featured fellow superheros Robin and Batgirl, respectively.