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Superheroes – Redefined , Re-understood, Re-interpreted

There was a time when a few generations in USA depended on the comic strips and magazines to bring them their periodical doses of superhero dramas. In the post second world war era, USA was enamoured by the range of para-humans it had developed ranging from Superman, Spiderman, Batman, Captain America, Wonder Woman, and so on. Today the list is even more impressive and has broadened to cover ancient demigods like Thor to The Green Lantern to Flash to Iron Man and goes on…

Traditionally, these were the men of steel (pun intended) who did not have to worry about things that we mere mortals do. They could fly and go around looking gorgeous while fighting the baddies and saving the world from extinction as part of their daily routines. They dealt with anything from bullets to tanks ‘heads-on’ without so much as getting their hair ruffled. The turning point in the lives of these para-human-heroes came when by the end of twentieth century we had directors like Bryan Singer, Sam Raimi and Christopher Nolan coming out with a very different version of their stories than what we were used to.

In “Superman Returns”, the man of steel arrived back to earth from his home planet injured and disappointed, only to discover that the Love of his life had moved on and had a family with another guy. “The Iron Man” continued to struggle through his adventures to accept his emotional vulnerability that he covered with arrogance.

When the Spiderman one released, we had a Peter Parker who was just a next door teenager, going through the hell that’s called American high school. And when he was bitten by a radioactive spider, instead of flying on a high horse and taking the superheoship in his stride, he actually struggled with the changes and made some terrible choices. The start of his superhero career was rather bleak and depressing and very very far from spectacular. Throughout the first two movies he struggled to keep his head straight while fighting the evil that came in form of friends rather than strangers. Spiderman 3 made the struggle even more explicit when the villain was not a robot with green killing machine or a maniac scientist with octopus like arms, but the spiderman himself that had gone dark.

But in our opinion, the whole thing was taken to an entirely new level when Christopher Nolan came out with the new version of Batman. The first movie of the trilogy “Batman Begins” was all about how Bruce Wayne struggle through a bereaved and lonely childhood to become a lost young man whose concepts of right and wrong were terribly muddled, to say the least. He seeked truth and purification through self hatred and purging, throwing himself in the darkest corners of the earth and rags of humanity to understand psychology of crime, becoming a petty criminal, attending jail terms until he was forced to face the whole institution of Ras-Al-Gour and everything that followed. While dear Rachel happily plunged on to fight crime by becoming a lawyer, Bruce struggled to forgive and forget. He was prepared to kill to avenge the murder of his parents. And it was this quest that led him to roam over the dark streets of Gotham and in the process become a kind of protector of this city.

Interestingly, in the gallery of the superheores, Batman is the only character whose powers are not part of his bodily self. The only Bruce component in the Batman is his wilIpower. Inside Bruce, there is still a frightened and lonely child, who goes out in the dark, night after night with his invincible armour and his oh, so cool cars and bikes… seeking an answer, seeking a meaning to his life. And when the Joker came along and threw the concepts of good and evil in flames on his own personal quest to destroy everything meaningful and moral, Batman barely survived. He chose personal gain over benevolence and generosity of heart and paid for it dearly. The film asked the fundamental question: individual or a system? What did the world want? And even more terrible bottom-line in third and final instalment that it doesn’t take anything but time to convert our heroes into our villains.

The Batman trilogy opened a whole new world where the superhero was not just a hunk of steel. If the spiderman made an epitaph of “With great power comes great responsibility”, the Batman trilogy went exploring the complicated process of making choices that are not always as easy as black and white or right and wrong. These superheroes were vulnerable, terribly alone, struggling with the burden placed on them and seeking the normal life that was denied to them.

I think, in some ways, they were just used as the eye-cathcers, i.e., they provided a very good and popular vehicle (as proved by the huge commercial success of these films and a few more in making) to channel the ideas and ethical questions that everyone faces every day. The moral dilemmas, the need to make always a correct choice, the struggle between doing what you want to do, doing what the society and peer-pressure wants you to do, or doing what’s considered right.

Yes, that’s the toughest one: Right by what standard? As our Vedic heritage has always told us, every life remains a journey, it is a quest to seek the answers to eternal questions….There are numerous paths that lead to one destination, where one finds oneself and probably the answers to everything…

Meanwhile enjoy the superhero dramas coming your way…………

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