In comic books there are different types of superheroes. (The same applies to supervillains, but I’d rather concentrate on the heroes.) One type of hero is the mutant. These characters are born with their powers. They have an extra advantage (or disadvantage as the case may be). Examples of this type are Wolverine and the X-Men. For our purposes here, we will not discuss mutants. For the same reasons, we will not discuss magic-based characters such as Dr. Strange.
Another type of super-hero is the one who is an ordinary person but gains his or her powers through some fantastic event. Most superheroes fall into this category. Some are ordinary but have honed themselves to near perfection, like Batman, Hawkeye, or Black Widow. Others are powerful usually because of some scientific or biological discovery or mishap that created the character’s powers. Most characters fall into this category – the Black Panther, Spider-Man, the Hulk, Captain America, the Flash, Daredevil, and the Fantastic Four. (Some characters also have a technological power like, again, Hawkeye, or Green Arrow, Green Lantern, and Iron Man.)
Finally, there is the hero who is not magical or mutant but is born with his or her power. The most well-known heroes of this type are Superman and Wonder Woman. As stated in Kill Bill 2, while Spider-Man is really Peter Parker in disguise and Batman is really Bruce Wayne in disguise, the reverse is true for Superman. He really is Superman. Clark Kent is his disguise. Diana Prince is Wonder Woman’s disguise.
Still, it is not disguise, but identity which is relevant here. Identity and power.
We all have identity and we all have power. Sadly, many people find neither or at least not enough to fully realize their full potential. But we all have identity and power. And realizing one helps us realize the other. It doesn’t matter which we find first because they go together. It doesn’t matter if our powers came to us one day through some fantastic or even tragic event. It doesn’t matter if we’re Superman and Clark Kent or Peter Parker and Spider-Man. There are two truths at play here. One: we can choose who we want to be. We can also choose how to think, how to spend our time, and how to behave towards others. We can choose to view problems as obstacles or opportunities. How we choose to think is part of our super power. How we choose to act is another power we have. Ultimately what defines most comic book characters is not their costumes or even their unique abilities, but how they face adversity.
Most superheroes are borne out of crisis or tragedy. Most non-powered heroes are, too. None of us is immune to tragedy, setbacks, heartbreaks, or disappointment. It’s how we deal with them that makes us heroes (or villains). It’s how we choose to Get Started and Keep Going or how we quit that makes us heroes, defining and determining our identity and power (or not).
I have seen in my own life in the last few months an unusual number of setbacks and disappointments. I think if I had the choice, I would have just stayed at my place and retreated forever. But the nature of my problems and the love I have for those in my life and the love they have for me does not allow a retreat.
In her book You Are a Badass at Making Money, Jen Sincero discusses how it is the subconscious, even more than the conscious than can determine our lives and allow us to tap into or, more commonly, limit our power and hide our identity from us. She calls the subconscious “the little prince” and his job is to keep us safe. When we are young, this is helpful. But when we become adults, this is often counterproductive and even harmful. We say we want to be wealthy, but our little prince does not like the inherent risk, so he sabotages us by making us late to appointments and getting us into fights with the people we love.
A superhero is different. He has power and knows who he is, so he faces danger. He doesn’t look for it because it’s always there anyway. And so he often goes towards it because he knows on the other side, there is a better life. He is rescuing himself so he can take care of those he loves. He or she Gets Started and Keeps Going because that’s what superheroes do.