Tag Archives: science of heroes

The Science of Heroes

Avengers

Hello, Marvel Writers!

In my last note I mentioned the ongoing torture of our many Marvel favorites.   I cannot help but think that part of the reason you are mutilating the Marvel greats, fellow writers, is because you are attempting to play the role of scientist or psychologist, whichever one of these two you endeavor to shadow.

Here is the basis for this hypothesis of mine.  Some years ago I found an article in an edition of The Saturday Evening Post which talked about heroism.  The first case the writer(s) for the article used to illustrate his/her point was an incident where a man pulled over to put out a fire in the engine of a school bus.  The driver of the car did not know the bus driver, nor did he know any of the children.   But he still made the decision to pull over and assist.

To ask why he and numerous others have done such things is good.  It is always good to ask why someone did something heroic, or why they did something terrible.  This is why stories (whether they are in comic book form or not) are so important.  They are character studies that help the readers better understand the difference between right and wrong.

The problem here comes when the questioners lose sight of their objective, as the writer(s) for the Post did.  As you have done.  The questioners lose sight of the question when they ‘answer’ their question with such things as, “He just reacted.”  Or, “It was his abusive childhood that made him do/not do x.”  Or, “It is a programmed response due the effects of thousands of years of evolution.”

I am sorry, but these are not answers.  People do not simply ‘react’ unless they have either: a) trained themselves to react in a certain way (such as by practicing a family fire escape drill); or b) have been trained to react in a certain way (as soldiers are trained to react to certain situations before they go into the field).  And even then, they have a choice of reactions.

Other cases of ‘reaction’ are actually a combination of the decision to do something (i.e. pull someone free when they are trapped beneath a car) and the ability to keep thinking during a crisis.

Some would call this last instance a fluke.  In a way, they would not be mistaken; people more often than not freeze or panic when they are frightened.  So when someone keeps thinking and finds a way out of a bad situation, they are an exception to the general rule – in essence, a fluke.

In the other cases I referred to above, a person’s environment, previous or current, does not entirely influence their actions.  Case in point for the comics, Hawkeye’s lousy boyhood would suggest to some that he would take up a life of crime instead of a life as a hero, costumed or otherwise.  Did Clint Barton automatically become a criminal when he reached adulthood?  No.  This is because Hawkeye had a choice before him: follow his father, the Swordsman, and the first Trick Shot’s bad examples or choose a better path.

He chose – chose – to become a hero.  And he remains an Avenger, whether he is actively serving on the team or not, to this day.  (Once an Avenger always an Avenger.)  So his past, and the past of other characters, is not a complete or proper answer to his actions in the present.

As for heroism being a programmed response after thousands of years of evolution, it does not answer why one person in a particular crisis would choose to stop and help instead of running away screaming; or maybe even pushing the crisis along a little bit.

Crime shows such as CSI, NCIS, Castle, etc., prove that this theory does not hold water for individuals.  If heroism were an ingrained human response, like the knee-jerk reaction all doctors are familiar with, then there would be fewer crimes committed – on and off screen.

You know, fellow writers, in a way you are scientists.  You are trying to figure out “What causes a man to turn right instead of left at just the time when it is needed; a woman to say yes instead of no; a child to laugh at something instead of running away in fear.” (Star Trek: Crossroad by Barbara Hambly.)  This is the science of philosophy, the search for the truth for its own sake.  The problem here is that you are chasing down all the wrong answers.

So what IS the right answer, you ask?  I think that the right answer is this: it comes down to a choice.  The choice the individual has to make between good and evil.  Why would a child “laugh instead of running away in fear”?  Perhaps he would laugh because there was nothing to be afraid of in the first place, and he recognized this somehow.

Why would a woman “say yes instead of no”?  No is easy to say.  Yes is much harder.  How easy was it for Susan Storm to say ‘yes’ when Reed Richards asked her to marry him?  She could not be sure that they would have children.  If they did, there were certain factors which had to be considered.  The children could be born mutants.  There was, and there remains, the very possible chance that someday Franklin and his sister will be orphaned.  Someday, both Sue and Reed fear that they may have to give their lives so their children can live in relative safety, leaving their two children, whom they love dearly, in the care of others.

Yet the Invisible Woman still said, “Yes.”

Why would a man “turn right instead of left”?  Maybe he went right because the path to the left was just too easy.  Maybe because, “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.” (Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back).  It is much harder to climb upward than it is to descend downward.  Skiing is good proof of this.  How easy is it to walk all the way up the mountain after going down?  If it were easy, they would not have invented ski lifts.

This is the best answer I have been able to find for the question of why people do heroic things.  Every man, woman, and child has to make a decision between right and wrong.  Characters that choose to do what is right – characters such as Hawkeye, Luke Cage, Falcon, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Wolverine, the Hulk, and oh, so many others – prove that good is the better choice although it is also the harder one.  They stand as witness to the rewards of a hard choice.

Just so, characters such as Trickshot, Sabertooth, Emma Frost, Dr. Doom, Mister Sinister, Magneto, Mystique, the Red Skull, etc., stand as warnings about the cost of taking the ‘easy’ path.  When Hawkeye stands face to face with Trickshot, it is easy to see that, while they are brothers, one is the stronger of the two.  And I will tell you this: it is not Trickshot who stands firmer than his younger brother!

In the end, who would we rather be?  The scarred hero or the comfortable villain (I am thinking about the Kingpin here)?  Even with all its hardship, good has more rewards than evil.

So what will it be, fellow writers, fellow philosophers, fellow scientists of the human condition?  What will your choice be?  Do you continue chasing the red herrings, or do you hunt the fox?

For my part, I will continue to hunt the fox.

EXCELSIOR!!!!

Sincerely,

Mithril (A Philosophical True Believer)

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