Even casual fans of superheroes are intrigued by some of the issues raised in superhero stories--issues of morality and justice, of personality and identity. As with any good fiction that endures, we resonate with the superhero characters, and their stories spark our imaginations. The power of these stories entices each of us to wonder: What would I do if I were in the superhero's position? What might it be like to live in their world or have their powers? In essence, these questions reflect a curiosity about superheroes as if superheroes were real. How they are similar to and different from us. The extent to which superheroes' psychological nature reflects human nature.
In this way, superheroes serve as (funhouse) mirrors through which we catch our own images--sometimes exaggerated and distorted, sometimes not. When superhero stories lead us to ask ourselves "how would I handle that situation?" or "what would it be like to have a power?" what we're doing is comparing ourselves to superheroes and trying to figure out how similar to and different from them we are, and whether superhero stories can teach us something about ourselves.
In fact, they can. We can learn about ourselves from watching superheroes, especially when we focus on psychological attributes. Because most superheroes--even the ones who aren't human--function psychologically as humans. Superman may be from Krypton, but his childhood struggles with being gifted aren't that different from the struggles of gifted children in our world. Superhero stories were written, drawn, directed, and acted by humans (in so far as we know) and so the stories--especially the powerful stories--reflect their creators' knowledge and assumptions about people and about human nature.
Our Superheroes, Ourselves published on July 18, What is a Superhero? is publishing this month.