I love heroes. Superheroes especially.
I grew up reading and watching and listening to stories about aliens who used their otherworldly powers to protect, charismatic billionaires who donned masks to fight crime, ancient warrior women who pledged to uphold virtue and truth. Their stories are fantastic and full of imagination, and a great outlet for a young, idealistic mind searching for meaning in a world that can be very confusing and intimidating.
Sometime during the 1980s (at least in my reading), superhero stories started to become more realistic. They became grimier, darker, exposing more clearly the layers of society that necessitated their own existence: drugs, gangs, perversion. These things all existed during the Golden Age of the superhero, of course, it just hadn’t been painted for us so starkly, for the most part. (Again, this was only in my regular reading library of titles. I had yet to graduate from the more idyllic stories of Superman to the starker ones of The Shadow.)
But that’s not my point.
As these superhero stories became more realistic, so did the heroes themselves. They were, more often than not, flawed in such ways that we could recognise in them the weaknesses of ourselves. Some were vainglorious bastards who relished a bit too much in pounding petty crooks to a pulp; others were simply snide smartasses who spent more time mocking their teammates than actually doing any good. One example of these was “Mystery Men,” created by Bob Burden and later adapted into the 1999 film of the same name. It’s got a very neat B-list cast of character actors doing a pretty good job of telling the story of the formation of a misfit superhero team. Another film came out around the same time (2000), called “The Specials.”
“The Specials” doesn’t have quite the star power of “Mystery Men” (Rob Lowe is the main actor attraction, though he’s supported well by Thomas Haden Church, Judy Greer, and Jamie Kennedy)…but it does have one line that has always stuck with me. At one point, the leader of The Specials (The Strobe, played so genuinely John Wayne by Church that the character is almost depressing) decides to bring the group together by telling his origin story. Every superhero’s got one, of course: how he or she developed their super powers and what made him or her decide to become a hero. During the middle of this, potty-mouthed upstart Amok (Kennedy) interrupts:
“Nobody wants to hear your boring fucking origin story!”
Now, all of that explanation above was just for me to say, that is what I often think others feel about my own writing: Nobody wants to hear my boring fucking story.
I think a lot of writers probably have these moments, when we’re floundering in the deep end of the pool, wondering just why the heck we bother. There are a million (more!) other stories out there, commanding attention, garnering praise, offering insight. So why do we bother? Why do we insist on struggling through the pages of plot and dialogue and description, when there are already far better and wider-reaching works than our own?
I’ll tell you why. I’ll tell you why I do it, anyway.
Because I’ve always been inspired by heroes. I’ve always read stories about Superman and Wonder Woman and Spider-Man, and I’ve always thought how fantastic it might be, to look up in the sky and see one of them swinging or flying overhead. What a beautiful world, to find adventure and romance and miracles in everyday existence. Not because you’d have super powers or see other people running around with super powers. But because those heroes made me appreciate life, appreciate love, appreciate all good things. And when I really thought about it, I realised: it’s not about the superhero. It’s not even about the hero, really. It’s about the story. The story that moves and teaches and opens us up to something greater than ourselves.
And that’s why I do it.
So. Why do you?