Superheroes — perfectly imperfect


By Kaanan Raja

I take Halloween incredibly seriously; in fact, this past weekend, I invested in a full Iron Man suit complete with an Arc Reactor, face mask and matching glow-in-the-dark gloves. You can imagine the looks I received when I placed my intricate costume on a conveyor belt in line behind girls buying cat ears or police officer handcuffs.

I received some negativity from my friends and family, especially my parents, who both rolled their eyes in exasperation when I told them about my purchase. One friend explained that she thought superheroes were slightly problematic, while my mom continually asked, “Aren’t you a little too old for that now, Kaanan?”

Some modern-day superheroes may receive a reputation from people, such as my friend and other adults, as individuals with flawed morals. Many speculate that superheroes are flawed in the sense that they promote messages of violence, masculinity ideals and are not as selfless as they should be.

There has been a long-standing debate over whether these superheroes are actually good role models.

However, I would argue that the reason these overdone Halloween characters are so popular is the same reason people find faults in them: They’re imperfect. Flawed superheroes make a more believable story and in turn, allow us to connect with the characters more.

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Take Tony Stark for example: He’s a playboy, a millionaire and an engineer who created a powerful suit of armor and an Arc Reactor in place of his heart. He uses both to eventually fight for justice under the superhero name “Iron Man.” While Stark seems as if he has it all, he also carries a tremendous ego, exploits women, flaunts his money and has an unlimited supply of sarcasm.

Over the course of his comic books and three movies, viewers can witness his character development. Stark starts to use his newfound super suit to help others and to think of himself a little less, ultimately gaining the metaphorical heart he physically lacks.

While his flaws are definitely not the ideal qualities to look for in a role model, what makes him so wonderful is that these faults are relatable to some viewers. Similarly to Stark, there are some viewers that disguise their low self-esteem with humor or sarcasm, and there are others who know what it’s like to be alone.

Everyone struggles with something; college students know this well. With midterms still ongoing, many job and internship hunts now starting and the everyday hustle and bustle that is college life, students are the epitome of stressed.

Because of this, I believe that when we see successful characters who are just as flawed as we are, we relish in the fact that they eventually get a happy ending. These superheroes provide an escape from our everyday struggles and replace that stress with one simple thing: hope.

This concept is not new. Students who have taken a history class on campus can definitely testify. Many Greek, Roman and Egyptian mythology stories involve similar heroes: someone with extraordinary abilities but with the same dedication for a cause, nonetheless. In many ways, these modern-day superheroes exemplify what mythology before our own time also showed: even heroes have flaws.

From Achilles’ fatal weakness in his heel to Wolverine’s temper, each hero has something that makes him just as complicated as you and me.

Despite powers varying from superhuman speed to telekinesis, superheroes are still vulnerable to human conditions such as failure. Their stories allow viewers of every age and culture to experience the same range of feelings as the hero — from grief and depression to triumph and joy. It becomes almost inspirational seeing the hero finally tie his cape back on and give a last fight.

This is because when we can’t always defeat the demons and monsters of our own lives, we become motivated by seeing a character on screen defeat his or her own actual demon.

I think that is why three of the top 15 highest grossing movies of 2013 were superhero movies — “Iron Man 3,” “Man of Steel” and “Thor: the Dark World.” The issues of superheroes will always be timely: We will always want someone to find light in the darkest of times, especially in our personal lives.

For this reason, superheroes will always play a special part in my life. I can still remember the 7-year-old version of myself staying up late at night reading the newest issue of “Spiderman” under my covers. I found courage, passion and a desire for justice in the comics I read. I continue to pursue these characteristics, even in my years as a college student. These books and heroes defined what I now consider important in my life.

Whether superheroes are your temporary, blissful escape, your insight into what it means to be human or even your childhood obsession, one thing is for sure: Superheroes are absolutely inspirational, sometimes even the really intricate-dress-up-Halloween-fictional kind.

Kaanan is a freshman in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected].