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History Channel’s Superheroes Decoded – American Legends

‘I don’t think you grow up in this country without being exposed to superheroes’.

When we think of Superheroes, we think of larger than life figures who have what it takes to defeat evil. From superhuman strength to flight and even web-slinging, superheroes help us all to believe that good does indeed reign superior to evil.

When darkness surrounds us, we look for light. When pain comes, we look for solace and when life is unfair, we look for justice. When Superheroes were born, they gave a name, a face, and a persona to what could finally right the wrongs. They gave the hope and the strength necessary to be empowered and to create the spark to drive change.

The History Channel shed light on Superheroes and the way in which heroes were born when the world needed them most. So when we think of these larger than life figures, they truly are born to be leaders but they were born of circumstance that we could relate to.

America’s first true superhero arose from Cleveland by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. They grew up in Glennville and bonded over magazines. Jerry had a dream about a savior from another planet with superhuman powers. Together, the pair created Superman. While Superman arrived in a dream, there are parts of him that reflected people during their era, including themselves.

The first time Superman is seen, he’s lifting a car and tossing it into a cliff, there’s no question as to who Clark Kent is, he truly is a super man. Superman took on the 1%…he wasn’t fighting out of this world legends, he was fighting the same battle that readers were fighting too.

After Superman, a large number of characters were created and while – for what they were – they served a purpose. The next big superhero name was Batman.

Batman is a vigilante and was a fighter of all things evil. someone on a mission to right the wrongs done by criminals. The senseless evil that he endured as a child was his motivating factor – he never wanted anyone to experience the pain that he did.

While Superman and Batman were born of the same cloth, they are like night and day. Superman is the hero of the heartland and Batman is the hero of the night. Superman is motivated by rational thought and a need to do good while Batman is motivated by revenge.

If you ask anyone the age old question – Batman or Superman, there are strong arguments on why each is a fan favorite. While there’s no right or wrong response – there are personal experiences that connect fans to each superhero for different reasons.

There is the difference between hopeful and fearful nature, the difference between being fair and getting even, the difference between acting in thought and acting on impulse. However, a common thread binds the two – they believe that their actions are bringing safety to the country that they love, even if it doesn’t love them back, even if it’s not in the way we’d expect.

When Nazi Germany and Hitler ruled, a new superhero was born that served a political purpose, specifically as a light against the

Captain America.

On the first issue, Captain America punches Hitler – and a super(war)hero was born.

His story is, again, one that those at home can relate to. Steve Rogers is a small, skinny, scrawny kid who wants to fight and while his body might not be what the world needed, his spirit and his heart are. He was born a hero, he just needed a bit of help to ‘fit the mold’.

Soon after, Wonder Woman was born and she was tough. She was born with traits of great women – she was strong and beautiful and brave and brilliant – and she had power. Wonder Woman fought bad guys, but she also gave women the belief they so desperately needed within themselves. This came at the perfect time, as women were entering the workforce, and she was the light that drove them to take what was rightfully theirs.

As the world changed, these heroes gave people something to believe in, something to motivate them to be larger than life in their own right. Then, another type of was born, life after war. At least, after world war.

After the war era, many superheroes were all but forgotten, or at least, all but forgotten as they were. Superheroes were suddenly, different – almost less – than what they were before.

A big change came in Wonder Woman and how she was almost weakened by men coming back from war. Instead of standing for strength, she began to stand for ‘the typical role of a woman’. She was touched, no…overwhelmed by conformity.

Suddenly, other forms of conformity touched these superheroes that gave strength and hope to so many. The ‘Comic Code Authority’ was born and it put restrictions on everything from characters to the words on the front of comic books themselves.

Bucky, Captain America’s sidekick was replaced by a woman and Batman was no longer surrounded by Robin, instead existed Batgirl and Batwoman. They even transformed Superman to a man who ‘fit the mold’. They were no longer larger than life – they were just…sort of there.

History.com says: ‘In 1954, Dr. Wertham published the now-infamous book “Seduction of the Innocent” wherein he said, “I think Hitler was a beginner compared to the comic-book industry.” The book presented his conclusions based on his own research with children and included comic book panels and dialogue, but many of these examples were taken out of context and in some cases outright misrepresented.

However, those radical (and almost crazy) restrictions were slowly phased out, and are continuing to be.

The next batch of superheroes came from science. The Fantastic 4. The heroes may have been born of ‘science’ but they were also born of humans. They were very much like us – they dealt with deeper emotions. Marvel took this further with other heroes like The Hulk and Thor and they were ‘larger than life with life-like qualities’ as Stan Lee said.

In continued times – Falcon and Black Panther were born – the first two African American superheroes. This seemed like a radical idea at the time, but they gave hope to kids and young adults who – after years of searching – finally saw themselves represented equally.

Through the trials and tribulations of the American people and their hand in the trials and tribulations of other people – these superheroes have been pillars of hope and strength as well as reflections of us all. While they may have fallen off for periods of time or lost their way, they’ve never let the darkness swallow them.

Not even when Superman died – and a light went out across America. People were in mourning, and after a year without Superman it was more clear than ever before, without him, things didn’t seem right.

However, the world continues to be ‘not quite right’ and as time progresses, the superheroes have progressed too. They’re not good or evil, not pure or toxic, they’re living – like us – in a grey area. They’re speaking for us, to us, with us – they’re taking their larger than life personas and placing themselves at our side. They struggle with love, with life, with discovering who they, are and where they belong.

Two questions remain, for us and for superheroes, and it is the driving force for continued growth.

Who am I and why am I here?

The History channel will dive into a second round of Superheroes Decoded next week and those questions will be looked into further. Until then, take a look at your favorite comics and watch your favorite superhero movie – you might have a different perspective now.

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  1. Read George R.R Martin’s Letter to Marvel Comics – Fan Fest | For Fans, By Fans

    […] Superheroes Decoded premiered on History last night, a part two is soon to follow. […]

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