From Zero to Hero: The Birth of Superheroes
In the era of the superhero franchise, many don’t seem to know the historical backdrop that led to the stardom of some of the world’s most iconic characters.
Prepare for your minds to be blown!
The truth is that some of these guys became superhero giants for a reason. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether it’s due to content or just good timing.
Holding Out For A Hero
Let me take you back to 1933, a year many high schoolers may know as the year of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power. It was also the year the character of Superman was created by two young men from Cleveland Ohio, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
What do these two events have to do with each other?
Well, this may surprise you, but I can make a direct connection between the rise of Hitler and the popularization of Superman. The main ingredient? The need for hope!
Picture the scene – Adolf Hitler, practically a nobody, blitzes through Europe and manages to create an entire doctrine based on fear…successfully.
By the time 1939 came around, no one had managed to stop him. He was the ultimate villain who had yet to face his superhero arch nemesis. A fact which may have been troubling to the children of the U.S.A whose only interaction with the man was through the radio news bulletins.
In fact, some may argue that if Hitler had successfully taken over Europe that his next stop would have been the U.S.
BONUS : If you want an idea of what a Nazi controlled U.S. would have looked like then I would definitely check out the mini series “The Triangle.” It’s about the Bermuda Triangle and although it is a mediocre show I would watch it for the one scene with the alternate universe of Nazi America – Super trippy and scary!
Thankfully, Superman comes onto the scene as a comic book in 1938. A natural superhero, his mighty powers and caring heart make him the perfect specimen of American creativity to defeat the evil Hitler – well, the idea of him at least!
Thus hope was born once again!
Although it is not said explicitly, I truly believe that the reason why Superman became as popular as he did was because he managed to bring hope to children and adults alike during a dark time in world history.
Much like Superman, quite a few people dislike Captain. His backstory isn’t dark and he gains his strength in hope – not in revenge.
Once again I will shatter your illusions and tell you that he is a direct response to World War 2. When the character first appeared in 1941, he was an instant success. Mostly because he symbolized the troops still fighting.
If Captain America could defeat the Axis villains then so could the fathers/brothers/husbands out there now.
To prove my point, check out this great cartoon from Dorkly that could say it better than I ever could.
This is all to say that there is more to these “bland” characters than meets the eye – at least from a historical perspective.
So what happened after World War 2?
Well, people got more cynical. They were disillusioned by their government through easily accessible information via television and a propaganda free press. The Vietnam War changed the way Americans saw warfare forever.
Children and Adults were no longer looking for their perfect warrior. They wanted heroes that were more like them – with flaws and all.
This paves the way for characters like Batman, Spiderman and even Iron Man. These were superheroes they could relate to. “Normal” guys who had to rise from the ashes after great tragedy. There is also a moral ambiguity to these characters that show that they’re human.
Except for the fact that both Batman and Iron Man were billionaires, I see their point. I think one of the reasons Batman is still so popular today is that he lives in a world that’s not so different from our own, but with gadgets and crazy villains!
In the same way, Spiderman is about a teenage boy who gets bitten by a radioactive spider. His story is the fantasy of every bored high school student. Thus the popularity of spidey grew!
Bottom line, we like to feel connected to fictional characters, and after World War 2 we no longer aspired to the super soldier.
We were looking for the hero we deserve 😉
Do you think we’ve found it?