The life of a superhero isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Sure, they wield awesome powers, help save citizens, cities, even worlds. Few characters enjoy such a fast-paced, rewarding life. Yet hidden beneath the accolades, the accomplishments, the massive muscles or skills that would put a ninja to shame lurks a deeper reality. The one truth no superhero, or any hero for that matter, can escape.
Uncle Ben summed it perfectly:
We often imagine what it would be like to have the strength of Captain America, the speed of Quicksilver, or the mind-bending manipulation of Magneto. That’s the glamorous side, the flashy lights sparkling on Broadway.
What happens when we venture down the dim side alley? We find the weight of responsibility tied to such powers. Some use their powers for good, others with malice or evil intent.
Look no further than the Avengers and one of their arch enemies, Loki. As with many tools, it’s not the object (in this case pick-your-power) itself that’s the problem. It’s the motivation of the user.
Then we have those who intend to do right yet fail to always harness their powers to the proper end.
Enter Barry Allen in Season 3 of The Flash. (No spoilers, just general information.) Going back to the end of Season 2, he’s managed to mess things up right good, knotting the timeline into the equivalent of a tangled fishing line nightmare.
Not because he’s trying to ruin things for everyone. But his selfish inclinations are just enough of a motivation to use his power detached from a responsible attitude.
This season has brought a continuous cycle of messing up, apologizing, attempting to do better, being tempted to fiddle with the timeline again. Round and round he goes. It seems the harder he tries to fix things, the more problems he causes.
Not only does this make for fascinating character development, and a compelling story, it resonates on a deeper level. For us, the concept doesn’t play out on the grand, world-saving, villain-defeating scale stories portray. Yet the truth remains, that the greater the power we hold, the greater our responsibility to use it wisely.
Shifting into the realm of magic and wonder, we see the same theme play out.
- Aragorn is responsible for protecting Frodo, and even the allure of the Ring doesn’t dissuade him from his noble purpose.
- Harry Potter uses his magic skills to combat Voldemort instead of joining him.
- Denethor lets his power-hungry desires drive him to destruction.
What to make of this? Obviously, the lesson is, if you’re going to have superpowers, or any type of power for that matter, you’d better be able to handle them.
Kidding aside, stories such as the ones mentioned above are good reminders for us, because they reveal facets of our own stories.
- How do we handle whatever power we possess?
- What happens when we fail miserably?
The brilliant beauty of stories is that in the midst of the drama, the conflict, the mystery, they often say something important about life or how the world works.
Beyond the echoes of epic tales, we see the practical, down-to-earth reality of how an idea such as power and responsibility mean something to us. We can think of Aragorn’s loyalty or the trouble Barry has gotten himself into, and perhaps it sticks with us and has an effect.
After all, superpowers aside, characters aren’t that different from us.