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Lessons learned from superheroes

Lessons learned from superheroes

In a previous column, I talked of my personal challenge to undergo “The Great Susanna Reset” this summer. One of my goals is to be more playful and to remember the little girl that still lives deep inside my hardened womanly shell. Interestingly, superheroes have become a part of my journey. 

An infatuation with superheroes is uniquely American. Why is that? As part of my metamorphosis, I did a little research. 

America was at a crossroads during the early years of World War II. Women’s roles were changing due to their involvement in the war effort and hundreds of thousands of European immigrants were fleeing to America to escape destruction in their native lands. This integral period of upheaval was fertile ground for many artists, but it was particularly pivotal for comic book writers who found inspiration to create such heroes as Captain America, Wonder Woman and Superman. At that time, these patriotic superheroes defended America against the Axis powers. 

In the 1960s, Marvel comics rose to dominance because Stan Lee was in tune with the era’s zeitgeist. It was the height of the Civil Rights movement. Lee recognized this and wove political elements into his themes and storylines. By the 1970s, Marvel had introduced Black, Latino and female superheroes. 

Diving into comic books as a form of escapism during wartime, using them for propaganda purposes or as political advocacy platforms makes perfect sense, but how have superheroes not only stood the test of time but evolved to meet the needs of modern society? One way was by moving the medium away from print and onto the big screen.

I’m not a superhero expert by any stretch. I’ve actually turned away from them until recently simply because I’m more of an indie film, psychological thriller type of movie goer. That being said, my 10-year old son and his friends are extraordinarily knowledgeable when it comes to superhero/villain origin stories, plot lines, conflicts, power acquisition and family strife. Ask my son a simple question like, “What’s the capital of North Carolina,” and he has to think really hard, but ask him to tell me about Tony Stark and his eyes light up as goes into a 15-minute monologue full of specific details and accurate information. 

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I’m curious about anything that makes my child’s eyes shine. 

This past week, we’ve had a bit of a superhero movie marathon. My boys have already seen almost every modern superhero movie, but I have not. We pulled a selection from the very lengthy list and settled on The Dark Knight, Justice League, Batman vs. Superman, Thor: Ragnarok and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

Further, I humored my younger by watching all the Spiderman movies in a short time frame. This included the Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland versions (eight movies total). Admittedly, I liked all of them. 

If asked, I would say Wonder Woman is my favorite superhero for obvious reasons, which were magnified further when Gal Gadot played the part in recent adaptations, but if I had to choose a second favorite, I’d say Spiderman or Batman, although Batman doesn’t actually have any powers, per se, other than being wealthy, intelligent and skilled at fighting and using gadgets. True comic enthusiasts may scoff at my obvious choices as favorites but again, I’m learning. 

It took me a long time to really listen to my younger son as he passionately talks of his favorite superheroes. Previously I just nodded and offered the occasional “oh, cool” and “wow” and “that sounds neat,” but this summer has been different. I’ve started fully hearing what he is saying, asking questions, watching short videos and very long movies. The experience has been nothing but enjoyable and offered an additional connection between my child and me.

For a myriad of reasons, Americans, especially young ones, continue to be obsessed with tales of freakishly gifted beings pursuing justice while battling darkened vigilantes. Gen Z has even been coined “The Superhero Generation.” As the mom of boys, I’m completely fine with my children looking up to superheroes who are trying to save the day and master their natural abilities to help others. In fact, I wish more adults could do the same. 

(Susanna Shetley is a writer, editor and digital media specialist with The Smoky Mountain News. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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