Opinion: What Constitutes a “Super” Hero?

A Superhero… what does that word mean?  If we go by a set definition such as the Miriam Webster dictionary, it goes like this:

su·​per·​hero | \ ˈsü-pər-ˌhir-(ˌ)ō , -ˌhē-(ˌ)rō\

Definition of superhero

: a fictional hero having extraordinary or superhuman powers also: an exceptionally skillful or successful person. 

The first part we are all familiar with. It is the basis for many of our popular comic book heroes or villains for that matter. Most have developed a certain set of powers through accident or birth. It is what they decide to use their gifts for that label them: Superhero or Super Villain.

In almost all cases, their powers and what they do with them are not all that defines them. The best characters have flaws or things they have to overcome in their own natures. It is what makes them, hero or villain, interesting. So what brings this subject up? Recently, the actor set to fill the cape and cowl of Batman, Robert Pattinson, suggested that Batman was NOT a “Superhero” because he had no special powers. The reactions of fans were interesting and quite telling.

A number of these fans leaned more on part of the second half of the definition. Batman was a superhero because he was “exceptionally skillful” in what he does. And they are absolutely not wrong.

In fact, I sometimes think that characters like Batman, Green Arrow, Hawkeye, Falcon are more impressive because they DON’T have super human abilities. When they rush in to a wave of gun-toting bad guys, they have no guarantees that they will not be injured or killed. It is a lot easier to face that challenge forewarned that they cannot harm you. Kind of takes the edge off.

Characters like Batman have no such protections. Only their courage, their skill, and in Batman’s case, his intelligence. While these are great attributes to have, the protection they provide in a life or death struggle might be limited at best. One only has to look at the many injuries that Bruce/Batman has endured to know that this is not some easy gig. It hurts. Both physically and emotionally it leaves scars. But he still plunges into the fight. It is that realization that he risks a great deal every time he saves people that makes him a “Superhero.”

We are fortunate to have examples of this same type of Superhero in our everyday lives. Whenever a policeman, fireman, or first responder jumps headlong into danger, he knows it could be his last. But they do not hesitate. They place the lives of others over their own personal safety. And they do it with only their skills, their training, their courage and whatever equipment they can carry. Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it.

So here’s to all the Superheroes. In our real lives and in our fictional ones…and that definitely includes Batman! But that’s ok Robert. You were half right…at least according to Webster’s.