The fairy tale is not just for women. In the same way, the story of the superhero is not just for men. When it is properly done, it appeals to both genders.
My favorite, hands down, is Superman.
Even Chesterton wrote about a ‘superman.’
(Chesterton was, in every way, ‘ahead of his time.’ He was so ahead that some thought he was ‘backwards.’ The truth of it was that he had just lapped everyone many times over. He went so far and so fast that even now, he’s still ahead and people scratch their heads as they try to keep up with the man who wore a sword, a symbol of what he did and what he loved.)
Batman and Spiderman are imposters.
(Ah, I thought I just heard some howling. Are you okay?)
But come on, it’s rather obvious.
A superhero must look like a super MAN, not a spider or a bat. When we become a better (superior) version of what we are, we don’t look like someone or something else. We become a better version of us.
A grown up (or better) version of a young boy isn’t a spider or a bat. A grown-up, head-turning version of a boy is called a man.
As Chesterton said, ‘development’ isn’t supposed to mean becoming something entirely else.
If we saw our new puppy ‘develop’ into a cat we wouldn’t think that’s really cool. We’d think that we just lost our pet. I use the dog-cat example because Chesterton did.
In the same way, a super hero is supposed to be us, at our best. That’s why when they look for an actor to be a superhero, or even a James Bond, they try to find a handsome actor with a great body. Then they put him in a uniform (as I said, there’s something about a uniform). He doesn’t look like a slob. He looks like he’s ready to do the job.
But the point is, the superhero is us. Chesterton said that the proper way to structure the story is to put an ordinary man (that Clarke Kent) into extra-ordinary circumstances. It’s so we can relate. It’s so we can imagine what we would do, if it happened to us.
And it’s at this point that you will see the analogy. In the same way that a true fairy tale is always the story of the good Prince (= Christ) leaning in to save the young damsel (= humanity), the true super-hero story should be about the potential of an ordinary fellow to become MORE, to become a rescuer and protector of those in his circle, and beyond.
Going further, you can see why such a template is a useful way to explain Christianity.
Christianity says that every ordinary fellow (both men and women, actually) is called to be a hero, a saint.
I’m not making this up.
The Catholic Church says that YOU are meant to be a saint. God’s plan isn’t limited to that “holy” lady over there. God’s plan isn’t a one-time-subscription offer that you MISSED. No.
He’s holding the door open, hoping you’ll step through – still yet, at what may be the eleventh hour.
He’s delaying the surprise final exam, so you can actually pause and get focused.
(The test is: have you forgiven that one who has wronged you just now? Or are you holding a grudge? Yikes! That’s the worst thing you can hold – might as well go swimming clutching an anchor – ditch it, FAST.)
But anyway, back to the super hero.
It’s so much harder to relate to someone who isn’t even quite human (as God himself knew; fortunately for us, Jesus is fully God yet fully a man.)
It’s so much harder to relate to someone who wears a mask, obscuring his identity. As a matter of fact, that’s what the bad guys do, all the time. They are cowardly; they hide their face. They don’t want you to know them, ever. (Here I distinguish: there’s a difference between delay and won’t ever.)
The human face.
That’s our best part.
The eyes: the best part of the best part.
So now compare Superman to the rest. Which superheros look like grown men when they are saving the day?
Put the heros side by side. And yes, if a half mask or a full mask is part of the deal, that’s how they’ll be viewed.
Does that slanty-eyed red hairless creature (missing a nose) look like someone a girl would want to propose?
Uh – who the hell are you, Mr. Balaclava? Why are you wearing your mother’s pantyhose all over your head? No wonder your eyes are all pushed and weird-shaped like that. (Don’t pull it off fast – static cling, don’t you know.)
Besides, the spider is the most disgusting of creatures. Anyone who doesn’t admit it is either lying or crazy. A speech about it’s ‘usefulness’ is besides the point. It’s ugly. It’s yucky. Even worse than a bat, which at least has the decency to do its business in the dark.
Ah yes. The bat. Flying mouse with Lycra-esque black hairless wings. Also ugly, but in an undecided way. Rodent mixed with horrid bony wings. Bleck. Don’t tell me it’s charming.
Not inspiring as a creature, and not exciting as a replacement for a man. Superhero? That guy? That’s not a man, that’s a chin. He’ll rescue you, darling, using the hairs of his chinny-chin-chin. Squeal! And then he’ll run home. Mind you, I’m not even sure it’s a ‘him.’ I THINK it’s a guy. (Adam’s apple is showing.) Can’t really quite tell. Maybe it’s not. Can’t see the face. Some lips, some chin. Hmm. Uh – nope, don’t think I’m buying.
Batman is the Undecided One. He’s the agnostic who’ll go to the grave, every year older, but never choosing a side. Hmm, he says to himself. I’ve got it! I’ll hide my eyes, hide my nose, hide the bad hairdo but I’ll flaunt my chin! That’s it! A Close Shave. That’ll be my motto. Closer, closer, but never hitting the mark. No Blood, no Body, just near-misses and (b)lather.
He’ll keep you up until 3 a.m. debating and arguing, while the others have all gone off to bed and to more. Is he listening? Maybe he’s not. Those cat-shaped ‘ears’ on top of his head don’t actually work – they’re just there for show.
You see, faith and romance are the same in this way: Choose a partner, and then you may dance. Won’t or can’t choose? Then wait by the wall until you make up your mind. But beware: the party may end sooner than you think. (How old are you darling, if I may ask?)
If you give me a hero, show me his face. Don’t cover it up – Darth-Vader style, Spidey style – or go half-sies (like Batman).
Let’s see your eyes. Are they blue, gray or green? Are they dark and flashing or lighter, like tea or rootbeer? Let’s see your hair. Can I imagine running my hands through it – Thunk – What? Hey! That’s plastic! Or wait! Eww! Is that rubber? What’s it doing on your nose? You’re not a man, you’re a mascot! Yikes!
Give me a man.
Or a Superman.