Three Origins of Superheroes

Alexander Macris was my editor when I worked for EveryJoe. I liked working with him and hope to do so again.

Here he gives his theory of the three origins of superheroes:

There are only three origin stories for superheroes. Everything else is just re-mixing on these three ingredients.

  1. Ordinary person accidentally becomes extraordinary through chance.
  2. Determined person becomes extraordinary through dedication and will.
  3. A person born with extraordinary gifts lives up to his birthright.

These are, respectively, proletariat, bourgeois, and aristocratic views of human achievement.

The proletariat sees success as a product of chance. “He got lucky.” “He won the lottery.” “He don’t deserve what he got.”

The bourgeois sees success as a product of hard work. “I earned what I’ve got.” “I tried harder.” “It’s a meritocracy.”

The aristocracy sees success as a product of nature. “Some people are born superior.” “Blood runs true.” “I was born to lead.”

Examples of aristocratic heroes are Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Green Lantern.

Examples of bourgeois heroes are Batman, Green Arrow, Nightwing, Ozymandias, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Black Widow.

Examples of proletariat heroes are Spiderman, Incredible Hulk, and the Fantastic Four.

Marvel’s mutants are interesting. A mutant who sees his mutation as a mighty gift, like Magneto, is aristocratic but typically a villain. A mutant who sees his mutation is a random event tends to be portrayed as a proletarian hero. Most of the X-Men fall into this group.

Overall, Marvel’s heroes tend to be more proletarian, while DC’s heroes tend to be more aristocratic, with bourgeois heroes in both. Under progressive influence, these roles still apply. DC heroes act with noblesse oblige as aristocratic patrons of the oppressed. Meanwhile Marvel heroes tend to suffer from oppression themselves, as in much of the X-Men tales.

Bourgeois heroes tend to be least susceptible to progressive re-purposing as their bootstrap heroism is inherently a conservative message. Hence the progressive critique of Batman for being a successful businessman who uses his skills to beat up criminals, e.g. oppressed people. A progressive Superman can use his powers to defend illegal immigrants, but a progressive Batman is just George Soros.

This analysis helps explain why the Batman movies had conservative undertones, and the X-Men movies had liberal ones.

Man, I’d have made such a good critical theorist. Bummer.

My comment:those of you who object to the stink of Marxism which clings to the terminology of ‘proletarian’ and ‘bourgeoisie’ and such, just keep in mind that their ard other words in which the same thoughts can be clothed.

Shakespeare said it this way: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.

Born great includes Superman; achieve greatness includes Batman; greatness thrust upon him includes Spiderman.

Mr. Macris overlooks one of the basic origin stories: someone selected for a destiny, and given the mantle. This is because in the middle ages there were four classes, not three. Alexander Macris did not leave room for the clerics, members of the priesthood, who are called to their vocation, and not selected by luck, birth, or their own effort.

So let me suggest:

4. Ordinary person is selected to become extraordinary through the intervention of a higher power.

He may have some special quality, like courage or devotion, which brings him to the attention of the higher power, but it is not by his own efforts he is granted the gift.

This would cover superheroes like Captain Marvel (Shazam) and Green Lantern.

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