Superheroes and Superheroines
America, over the past one hundred years, has become a place in which Superheroes and Superheroines have become significant icons of popular culture. Across many forms of Mass Media the presence of these two figures is paramount. For generations the lives of Americans have been inundated by Superhero and Superheroine characters through comic books, radio, television, and film. Moreover, the fascination with these characters has remained strong since the advent of the early characters, such as Superman and Wonder Woman, to those of the new millennium, like the Power Rangers and Xena.
It can be argued that regardless of the era in which characters are introduced enthusiasm for heroic action figures remains on a fairly constant level. The primary reason for this is that despite the unique characteristics that define each Superhero and Superheroine American culture has created certain ideals for action heroes and heroines that can be found in any character of every era (Marwil). In other words, a character created in 1940 is likely to share many of the same qualities with a character created in the year 2000. However, it is important to recognize that within American culture the ideals for heroes and heroines are gender-specific. Superheroes and Superheroines have some similarities, but many characteristics make them quite different figures.
One of the goals for this web site is to define what we believe to be a Superheroine within the parameter of popular American culture, and so assuming that this has been accomplished to a certain extent in other parts of this site it seems logical to begin this analysis with a look into the identity and role of the American Superhero. Whether found in comic books, television, film, or all three there are five basic characteristics that are standard for the American Superhero. First, he must be both physically and mentally strong. He should be able to defeat his opponent with either his intellect or his physical power. The physical power may include superhuman powers such as super-speed or super-strength, gadgets or man-made defense mechanisms, for example the Batsuit, and lastly physical power might come from special fighting skills like karate or other martial arts.
Second, the Superhero is always heterosexual and unmarried. For the most part he is a loner and independent of any woman. However, an exception is made with regards to the alter egos of Superheroes. Many times the alter egos will have relationships with women, but the Superhero part of the personality will not. This is evident with both Superman and Batman. Clark Kent, Superman s alter ego and Lois Lane can be considered to have had some sort of romantic interest in each other. Also, Bruce Wayne, Batman s alter ego has had several relationships with women, but again Batman himself has not. Thirdly, the Superhero has strong convictions, but his values are fairly simple. He view issues and problems in black and white terms. In his eyes there is always a right and a wrong, and of course, he always chooses the right thing to do.
The fourth attribute of the American Superhero is his reserved nature. He can be described as laconic and at times untrustworthy of those who are loquacious or unreserved. The Batman character and his alter ego Bruce Wayne are the perfect examples of possessing the quality. Finally, the Superhero is always patient when it comes to using his force, but nevertheless is always ready to step in and use his power when necessary (Marwil).
Furthermore, along with these five qualities, Superheroes have a quest-pattern that is common to most heroic adventure storylines. This quest-pattern entails answering a call of help or adventure and subsequently facing various trials and obstacles, which he comes through successfully. Then he humbly accepts his reward, which normally consists of an endless amount of gratitude from those he saved, and afterwards he returns, "home or becomes his alter-ego (Neher 23). This quest-pattern is subject to slight variation, but for the most part heroic storylines tend to adhere to this pattern.
The quest-pattern and the five basic characteristics make up the framework for almost all the Superheroes that have become icons in popular American culture. Arguably, these standards reflect the ideals of our society. As Americans we want our heroes to be powerful, intelligent, honorable, patient, and most importantly, we want our heroes to fight for good against evil. Essentially, this is how we see ourselves, and our role as a world leader, and so there is no surprise that we continue to be captivated with figures that reflect the vision we have of ourselves.
Earlier it was noted that the ideals of Superheroes in our society are gender-specific, which is a statement that is worthy of some attention. What qualities make superheroines different from their male counterparts? The heroine is a woman who is both physically and mentally strong and defies the domestic restrictions of patriarchal society. She is also a crusader for the good against evil and therefore spends most of her time fighting to save the world. These characteristics coincide with the image of the Superhero, but hat is where the major similarities end. In contrast to the Superhero, the Superheroine is not laconic, and she does not always see things in simple black and white terms.
The Superheroine figure is not always reserved, nor is she untrustworthy of those who are talkative and emotional. Batgirl is a perfect example; she is expressive and unrestrained, which sets her apart from her hero counterparts Batman and Robin. Moreover, having the tendency to be less reserved than the hero, Superheroines do not always see their or the world's problems in simple terms; instead, their values are often quite complex and at times emotions leads them to grapple with decisions.
Another difference between the males and the females is the issue of independence. As stated before, Superheroes are always unmarried and independent of any meaningful, romantic relationships. This is not always the case with Superheroines. All of those who are featured in this site are heterosexual and unmarried like the heroes, but several of them have had romantic relationships such as Buffy, Xena, and several of the X-Men characters. Superheroines are not portrayed as autonomous as their male counter-parts.
The last distinction between the two and possibly the most important is sexuality. In general Superheroes are attractive characters, but more emphasis is placed on the appearance of Superheroines than Superheroes. All of the Superheroines that are featured on this site (and those who are not) are beautiful, sexy women whose costumes or outfits are revealing and seductive. Sexuality is a dominant part of their image, and because of this, one could argue that these female characters are highly objectified. More attention is given to appearance than any other aspect of the Superheroine.
In conclusion, the distinct qualities that Superheroines embody reflect society's ideals for women much like in the case of the Superhero. The confines of patriarchal society instill certain notions in the public concerning men and women, and these ideas come through in the depiction of heroes and heroines. Traditionally, women have been vied as more emotional with the tendency to dwell on the complexity of situations rather than see issues as black and white or right and wrong. This certainly comes across in the Superheroine figures. Furthermore, women are raised to have a dependency on men while men are raised to be more independent. Yet again this can be found as a difference between the male and female heroes. Finally, women have always been viewed as sexual objects, and a great deal of importance is placed on a woman's appearance. With all this in mind it is evident that Superheroes and Superheroines embody qualities that reflect society's ideals, and these ideals are gender-specific and ultimately are influenced by patriarchal standards.