The superhuman

Essay by mikesmith969University, Master's May 2005

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Do Superheroes Hide Behind Masks?

For centuries, society and literature have revered and idolized extraordinary individuals called "heroes." The word hero brings to mind several images: strength, bravery, and determination. Heroes have been part of human cultures for thousands of years. Gilgamesh can be seen as the original superhero, followed by many others including Hercules, Spiderman and Superman, Batman and Catwoman. Heroes in "The Iliad" by Homer such as Agamemnon, Achilles, and Hector, all exhibit courage, strength, and perseverance. Our history books are filled with accounts of heroic actions. Daily newscasts report stories about heroes in all walks of life. What makes the stories even more fascinating is that the most enduring epic, "Gilgamesh," is nearly 4,800 years old. (Lawall, "Gilgamesh" 10). No matter which era, our heroes have these and other certain traits in common. The most unexplained quality is that of being a "common person" or "regular guy."

Superheroes such as Superman, Batman, and Spiderman all wear the masks of "common" individuals to conceal their identities. Beyond their ability to hide the true identities of these superheroes, the "common man" mask helps to spread the notion of each superhero's own persona, albeit for the better or the worse. This paper seeks to understand what super power a mask imposes on the hero and how he chooses to use it.

The "superhero," is perhaps the most resilient and powerful form of idealized masculinity within Western cultural traditions. Superhero displays of select aggression, strength, courage and endurance are defined as virtues; inherently "good" qualities of attained manhood. Comic books provide the superhero with a home and offer to the reader an instantly accessible visual for reflection and self-identification.

Comic book artists and writers kill and mutilate only symbolically and metaphorically with words and with images. Yet comic books highlight the...

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