The Avengers Assemble: Why it Sucks to be a Super Hero

At some point in our lives we’ve all wondered, if we could, what super power we would have; whether it’s a gift from God, an experiment gone wrong or some kind of hereditary mutation, we’ve all got our favourite – super speed, telepathy, invisibility, super strength – we’ve all considered what we would do with our new super power and whether we would use it for good or evil.

The comic book movie, along with the other myriad versions of speculative fiction, provides us with the perfect opportunity to investigate these possibilities from the safety of our own arm chairs; while Iron Man learns to fly and Thor reigns down the full force of the heavens, we sit comfortably on our backsides in the darkened theatres wondering to ourselves if we’d do it like them, and for 90 minutes or so we can indulge in the fantasy of what it must be like to be just – that – awesome.

The problem comes when we leave the theatre and return to our mundane lives, our boring jobs, money problems and cars that won’t start; you bet Captain America never has to put up with such things.

So after a while our admiration of these on-screen heroes changes, we find ourselves bitter and envious of them and their super powers, so the next time we sit down in the cinema to watch the Hulk kick some butt we think to ourselves “You don’t know how lucky you are”; and those Hollywood types, the producers, directors and share holders, sitting in the back rows hear your grumbling and quickly realize that no audience wants to watch a movie in which all the characters are better than them; so they come up with a twist, a way to keep our interest up and feed the growing subconscious resentment: this almost universal trope is known as “the Curse of Awesome”. It relies solely on the fact that the resentful among us are gonna get a bit of a kick out of seeing our super heroes suffer.

So, it turns out, having a super power isn’t all it’s cracked up to be: as Peter Parker’s uncle once said “With great power comes great responsibility”; that must be the reason super heroes never use their X Ray vision to watch girls in the shower. Instead their super powers give them more trouble than arthritis on a rainy day; that pesky telepathy reveals that your wife is cheating on you, whilst that super strength comes at the cost of your own restraint – what’s a caped crusader to do?

It all circles back to being cursed with awesomeness; how many times have you heard your favourite comic book character complain about the difficulties of keeping their secret identity a secret? Or how hard it is to be charged with having to protect and rescue a surprisingly accident prone but nevertheless beautiful young woman? And how often have you wanted to punch the whiney S.O.B? Time and time again however these movies show you that flying isn’t worth the life altering hassle.

It seems that having fun with your super power is a big no no in our society, our heroes never “abuse” their abilities, predicting the future to win the lottery would be an evil thing to do, even if you planned to use the money to feed starving children; if comic books teach us anything, it’s that the end definitely doesn’t justify the means.

Super heroes are always identified as being alienated by their abilities, outsiders charged with a special quest or duty to protect all man kind, whilst villains seem able to indulge in the more impulsive – and let’s be honest, fun – side of having a super power; but can only do so at the expense of their morals. In a Western society where saviours are always burdened with a sacrifice the implications these characters bear reflects an interesting aspect of the Western ideal; the idea that pure goodness can only be achieved at the expense of personal happiness, that to use the gifts given to you by God, nature or alien intervention for your own gains makes you a selfish, egotistical villain. This ideal further implies that the happiness of others is more important than one’s own personal happiness, and although there are of course charitable and ethical variations to this concept, it ultimately encourages people to believe that they have to suffer to make others happy.

Just look at Iron Man, whose first test flight in the suit brought him crashing dangerously back down to Earth, yet that was a learning experience for old’ Tony, a lesson that came in quite useful later on – do those ends justify the means? Or is this societies’ way of telling Stark he can save our asses but God forbid he has fun doing it.

Why does having fun with your super powers have to end badly? You go for a midnight spin around the night sky in your invisible plane and you’re bound to be seen by some crazy civilian, or you use your ability to move metal to make sure you win on those tricky casino slot machines and the money only makes you miserable – yet super villains can have a bloody great secret lair on their own frickin’ island and no body bats an eyelid? What all this just goes to show is that maybe we shouldn’t be so jealous of Superman after all.

Charles Xavier always seems so serious and concerned, whilst Magneto looks like he’s having a gay old time bending metal to bits; that’s because as a society it seems we’re incapable of being happy for someone who succeeds, in whatever way it might be. So somewhere in the story the successful hero has to suffer – be exiled from their home world in order to learn to respect and control their abilities – before we can accept that perhaps they deserve all that acclaim.

So we find ourselves presented with Tony Stark, the gorgeous millionaire with the Iron Man alter ego; surely there is almost nothing about that situation that sucks? And we wonder how we are supposed to compensate for our own failures when comparing ourselves to such a man? The only thing we can do, the only way we know how to make ourselves feel better about the situation, is to punish Stark. So Stark’s super powers not only alienate him from everyone he knows and loves but beyond that, to have to have them at all he has to have a bloomin great hole in his otherwise chiselled chest, now that sucks. The Hulk? Big, green and angry, there was no way that experiment was ever going to end well for Ed Norton, no wonder he decided not to come back. Whilst poor Captain America, who runs really really fast, has to loose all his family and friends not to some terrible tragedy or nuclear war but simply to the passage of time.

So our super heroes are forever damned, cursed to live these torn lives, which are on one side perfect whilst on the other horrible; is this some kind of human need to shield ourselves from our own disappointment? Or is it an inherent cynicism on our part, a belief that no one is perfect and so, according to the rules of Western society, one can never be truly happy?

And finally, when the credits start to role, we prise ourselves from our seats pleased that our faithful super heroes have saved the day once more, but with the satisfactory knowledge that we get to go home to our families and friends whilst the members of S.H.I.E.L.D find themselves in an empty house or abandoned experimental facility.

Whose life sucks now?

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