Kirk: Dreaming of superpowers reflects what humans need

Matt Kirk

Matt KirkI asked more than 20 people a simple question. If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Most people wanted to fly. So, there goes the originality of my first choice. Coming in at a close second was time travel, which leads me to believe too many people have been taking “YOLO” to heart. Wrapping up the Top 3 was super speed, followed by another time-saving transportation related power, teleportation.

But whether your desire is to heal the sick, change the weather, walk through walls or simply avoid traffic, we all have an answer. All of us wish to become more than our mortal selves, to change our potential, our history, our fate. The allure of escaping the inescapable bonds of mortality and becoming a god among men is such that dreaming for just a second can lead non-readers into the fantasy world comics create.

The stories illustrated in the realms created by Marvel, DC and various comic labels guide readers to answer a simpler, yet much harder, question. Who am I? With each character and each journey comes a lesson, a message, for only the reader to interpret. Through allegorical fantasy all topics can be presented to an audience for a philosophical analysis. However, the most common is the use of power.

A wide variety of powers and unique abilities can be found within comics, each one possessing its own parallels to issues humans face in daily life. Through vivid storytelling, comics explore the various ways to face the problems of the actual world. Different powers manage different struggles.

Time travel deals with issues of regret. The ability to fix the mistakes you have made in life brings to light the question of whether or not it is right, fair or healthy for one person to avoid pain and consequence. Suffering from personal mistakes fosters the learning and enhancement of one’s self. If you were able to avoid most negative outcomes in life, would you be capable of managing the temptation to put personal happiness above the wellbeing of others? Would life maintain its meaning and significance if there was more to experience than the here and now? Personally, time travel is the last power I want. I know at some point I would get hung up trying to accomplish something impossible and transform into Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day.”

The ability to heal the living and revive the lifeless deals with the issue of death. The pain and finality of a loved one leaving this world so great that comic heroes, like humans, will do almost anything to stop it. The Lazarus Pit in the DC realm of comics provides interesting insights about the consequences of attempting to escape mortality. The pit possesses the power to restore youth to an aging body and, in some cases, resurrect the dead. Similar to a comatose patient on life support, those who enter the pit do not frequently return back to their original selves. In many cases the results of the pit become so warped in mind, body or both that the following events resemble Stephen King’s “Pet Cemetery.”

With each action comic characters take they make the choice of how to use their power/powers to alter their mortal lives. The daily struggle of responsibility and morality is ever present for comic characters and uniquely handled by each individual. Whether he or she uses his or her ability for recreation, personal gain, the assistance of others or neglect it entirely says something about the character’s personality. Whether he or she becomes a symbol of heroism, honor and wisdom or victims of greed, pride or wrath, is entirely dependent on the nature of his or her persona. Each character will face a crucial moment, in which he or she will decide in what manner to direct his or her abilities. This decision is often a defining moment, determining the character’s destiny or fate.

Power has a duality to it. It can bring out the best or the worst in people, make life easier or fundamentally change its meaning. When asked what superpower you would want to possess I believe one should consider whether or not he or she wants that kind of power in life. Would you trust yourself to remain headstrong and use that power sensibly?

Comics may be fantasy but they teach us about something real. We may not be able to fly, smash through walls or read minds, but we have the power to change the world that we live in. We decide how we impact the world. To channel Batman: It’s not who you are, but what you do that defines you.

Ultimately, real power lies in strength of character. Some give in to greed among other temptations, but some rise to the challenge of using their power to benefit the world.

Matt Kirk can be reached at matthew.kirk@temple.edu.

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