by Nicholas Wolff, LCSW, BCD, TEP
As a dedicated comic book collector and reader, as well as veteran psychotherapist and trainer, I bring this observation to my work: we want our heroes to be what we fear we can never be. We project our power onto them and root for them to be on our side. And to the extent that is true we never move very far beyond our fear.
When I read Homer's The Illiad in college, I was electrified by accounts of the warrior Hector. Undefeated in battle for 9 years, and at the same time a good and pure man, he gave tremendous confidence to the people of Troy. Until he was killed by Achilles, throwing the entire city into a sea of grief. I imagined Hector was to his people as Superman was to me when I was a kid, victorious in the most potent battles, a source of security in a threatening and unpredictable world. I knew Superman existed only in our imaginations, but that is what made him so safe and magical. Then, in 1992, they killed Superman.
Superman's death was front-page news. Everyone I spoke to shared feelings about it. We felt a void where there had once been an illusion. It got me thinking about our need to believe we will be rescued, that wrongs will be righted, that justice will win out with no effort on our part. Because it is critical that this innocence is lost.
When we give up illusions about being rescued, we must take the reins of our own life. We cannot know the outcomes of the conflicts we face, and that is as it should be. Because whether or not we are aware of it, our heroes are always at least somewhat fictional, even when they are fully alive - as opposed to fully-drawn.
Superman returned to the world of our imaginations about a year after he died. He came back weaker, more human and like the rest of us, struggling to know himself anew. But if we grow through what we go through, we might discover some piece of him in us shining out in a dark time.
Nicholas Wolff is a trainer, educator and practitioner of experiential and action methods in psychotherapy, education and group work of all kinds. He teaches the skills, techniques, and philosophy of action methods to professionals in organizations and work teams as well as trainees in his groups as Lifestage, Inc and conducts workshops for personal growth and recovery.