The Purpose of Heroes

Assemble!

Hello, Marvel Writers!

      “A man needs heroes.  He needs to believe in strength, nobility, and courage.  Otherwise we become sheep to be herded to the slaughterhouse of death.  I believe this.  I am a soldier.  I try to fight for the right cause.  Sometimes it is not easy to know.

      “But I do not sit back and sneer in cowardice at those with the courage to fight.  The blood of good men makes the earth rich, as it is here.  When I die sword in hand, I hope someone lives to sing of it.  I live my life so that when death comes I may die well.  I ask no more.”

Sackett’s Land by Louis L’Amour

So wrote Louis L’Amour, best known perhaps for his novels of the Old West such as Hondo, Last Stand at Papago Wells, The Quick and the Dead, The Californios, and numerous others.

Stan Lee started something great when he penned the first Fantastic Four comic book.  He gave readers a glimpse of a universe with heroes, human in that they had flaws and foibles, but magnificent in how they rose above those things when necessity demanded their utmost in courage.

They had, and have, tempers.  They got and get sick, they broke and still break bones, and they retired and still retire (at least for a time) when they were and are emotionally drained.  And yes, they made and continue to make mistakes.  They fought and still fight with each other as much as with their enemies.

But despite all that, they were still heroes.  That’s why people continue to read about their adventures; why they go in droves to view the movies at the theaters.  If these flawed, breakable people can stand up to an evil, no matter the pain they’re in, no matter how tired they are, and say, “No.” – then why can’t we, the fans, do the same?

Yes, Iron Man, Cap, and most definitely Thor, are not real.  No one is going to be walking down Fifth Avenue and have to jump out of the way of a battling Yellowjacket and Ultron.  But what if one of us readers or viewers someday ends up with a choice between helping someone or saving ourselves in a crisis?  What role model will we have to steady us as we say, “No, I will do what is right.  I will help.”

Not all of us have great real life role models.  There are many fortunate people who do, but what about those who don’t?  What are they going to have to inspire them?  The answer is heroes.  Even if they are fictional – and there is no shortage of them inside or outside of comics and theaters – they are characters we can relate to more strongly than we can relate to actual flesh and blood people from time to time, especially in hazardous situations.

I’ve already listed several of the Marvel characters whose behavior of late has been less than inspiring.  None of it sounds particularly heroic when compared with earlier Marvel stories, does it?  So far Captain America has been the only hero to stay anywhere near heroic on and off the battlefield.

But how much longer is that going to last?  He’s already been ‘killed’ once, and he has been changed into at least three different animals in the same number of stories: a wolf, a tyrannosaurus rex, and don’t get me started on the incident where he ended up a spider.  That plot line was absolutely and completely disgusting.

How long can this go on?  How long will readers pay to read comics that spin their wheels in amoral mud?  And if the movies become as depressing as the comics, only the television shows will remain.  How long will it be before those are gone as well?

What I’m trying to say, fellow writers, is that people don’t need stories by ‘artists.’  It’s nice, and they’re great reads.  However, art usually comes about when the author isn’t striving for it, but for story and character.  Moreover, readers don’t want ‘stories’ that ‘delve into the human psyche.’  Psychologists are available if people want a psych evaluation.

What readers and viewers want – and what they need – are good stories well told with heroes who espouse morality and great ideals.  That’s all they want.

And unfortunately, my friends, right now we’re not getting it.

Sincerely,

Mithril (A Troubled and Frustrated True Believer)

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