When you think about American cinema lately you might conjure up images of a household name actor or director a la Bradley Cooper or the much maligned Micheal Bay. It probably won’t take the average person long to mention a superhero movie. The superhero movie in and of itself has taken over our culture’s attention for more than a decade now. Personally, I’m biased, I quite enjoy the genre as a fun escapist two hours to get away from the world and enjoy a little fantasy every now and then. The other day however, as I was considering just how popular Marvel and DC movies have become I came upon an interesting question. Who is the most American superhero?
There might be a fair amount of you that immediately spout off your “Superman”, your “Captain America”, maybe even a “Batman”. I believe it demands a bit more deliberation than that though. It can be argued that certain characters represent American ideals better than others, while others represent modern American society and our current culture’s mindset to a whole other degree. Now, to be fair, anyone that said Superman right off the bat does have a whole lot of points going for them already.
Superman was the first superhero, he began, and currently still perpetuates the comic book genre to this very day. Recently celebrating seventy-five years of publication he has some clout for the argument at hand, specifically the fact that he’s an immigrant, essentially the most American part of our own history. Clark Kent embodies the traditional “American Way” in too many ways to count, he’s resilient, his Kansas upbringing in a small town, he doesn’t want a fight- but won’t back down from one, and his handle on keeping his powers in check under stressful social situations proves that he is the better man (a point I believe the latest film iteration “Man of Steel” did well). Those are just a few examples, but I’ll move on just to speed things along.
Captain America. America is in his very pseudonym. However, Cap still falls into the same category as Superman. Half of the stories involving Captain America play off of him trying to relate to current American society, or referencing his traditional take on situations. He is a man stuck in tradition, and he, just as Mr. Kent, plays up the reserved, quiet, but strong and determined male model of masculinity. They both represent what most, but certainly not all, men strive to be at times in their lives, but it’s impossible to be at that level of responsible and level headed functioning all the time. Which is why Marvel wisely capitalized on the relatable superhero.
Spiderman is the quintessential icon of relatable superheroes. Peter Parker is a young, smart, and hard working individual that’s always rushing from crisis to crisis. A superhero that has trouble paying the rent but works tirelessly to help the average joe was a brilliant stroke of the evolution of the American superhero. The student with a secret always has far too many problems going on at once. From Doctor Octopus to getting to class on time, he is the epitome of a modern millennial, constantly juggling as much as possible just to get by and keep his loved ones safe and close. For every yin there is a yang however and the 1% must have a hero to call their own in this day and age, right? Why not, they’ve got everything else.
Tony Stark is the aged vintage wine of the elite superheroes. He not only represents America’s lust for consuming merchandise and wealth, but also our unrivaled American Ingenuity. He’s constantly renovating and rebuilding the world of technology around him. Tony has gone through changes that mirror in many ways what America has gone through in the last twenty-to-thirty years. They’re both now more invested in the green market, both have pretty shaky pasts at times, and both are working towards bettering their own images to transcend and excel. I believe The millennial generation is working hard to change the social stigma of our country across the globe to better represent ourselves in every field. I may be biased in this argument, but as an American, at least I can relate to Tony Stark in that way, confident enough to boldly make the changes we so desperately need, however I can’t snark like Stark, let’s leave the pros to do what they do best.
Speaking of professionals, I doubt there’s a more unprofessional professional than the Merc with a mouth himself, Deadpool. Now, I include Deadpool on this list because he represents a fervent and ever growing, ever changing, subculture. The internet. It has given us many things, but chiefly relevant here is the warped sense of humor and a desensitization to violence that oddly, yet successfully, merges cartoonish antics and adult content. This essentially is Deadpool, with his ridiculously short attention span and lust for silly violence, he vividly represents the “Call of Duty” modern subculture that is prevalent among a wide swath of American youth today. While Wade Wilson is void of the hard moral lines that make Captain America and Superman such icons for the values of American tradition, I say he is a much needed force to represent the balance of our culture. Deadpool represents the flip side of that coin and rightly so, The United States of America is a massively diverse place, with wildly different opinions driving everything we do.
Thus it stands to reason that there is no one supremely “American” superhero because it would defeat the purpose of our country in itself. Maybe the angle here isn’t that any one super powered individual best represents us because we are all so different. We’re akin to a gigantic machine with millions of different gears and cogs, coils and springs, all moving independently of each other, and at the same time, in unison with one another. It’s probably more accurate to say that simply the idea of superheroes by itself is a truly American invention because they’re beginning to represent more and more of the rest of us as time goes on. The New Ms. Marvel is a teenage Muslim American, the new Thor is be a woman, and Sam Wilson (The Falcon) has taken up the Mantle of Captain America himself proving that diversity is starting to reach the arenas of entertainment that has had a harder time changing decades old fan favorite characters. On DC’s behalf even Victor Stone, the African American superhero known as Cyborg, has become an unbridled force for good on the Justice League standing with the legends themselves, Batman and Superman.
When you really boil it down to its core the idea of someone imbued with a significant advantage in life that chooses to stand against the evil intentions of others, to protect those with less, is a truly human thing. Maybe it’s not about flags or borders, but just about the nature of good people that take action and stand as a symbol to others that injustice, lies, thievery, and rape (physical, emotional, or mental) will not, and should not, be acceptable in a community of decent human beings. To be human though, is to tell stories, its how we started recording history by oral traditions. Thousands of years later our imaginations could no longer be contained by a single medium and we grew in the world and in the way we tell our stories, by speech, on paper, in print, within our music, and even with film. So, to be a true American, to be more like a superhero, to be human really, go out there and tell a story, any story, it doesn’t even have to be yours. Get Vivid, and have fun.